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THE Essay on Poetry is published for the first time. Those 
on Mrs. Browning and the Bronte sisters are founded on 
Studies which appeared hi \Tfie Literary World, and have 
now been carefully revised, greatly modified, and considerably 





Criticism by Sample Mr. Arnold's Test of no use to ordinary 
readers Poetry not criticism, but creation Observation 
and Imagination The Poetic Glow Metrical Form The 
Song-element Wordsworth Burns Byron Mrs. Brown- 
ingThe Bronte Sisters . . . . ix 



I. Her Earliest Verses . . . . .3 

II. The Seraphim and Drama of Exile . . .7 

III. A Vision of Poets, and The Poet's Vow . . .27 

IV. The Romaunt of Margret, and other Poems . .38 

V. Her Philanthropic Poetry . . . . .48 

VI. Lyric Pencillings . . . . . .55 

VII. Lady Geraldine's Courtship . . . .60 

VIIL The Rhyme of the Duchess May . . . .72 

IX. Poems of Affection. . . . . .81 

X. Her Love Sonnets . . . . . .87 

XI. Poems of Patriotic Sympathy . . . .97 

XII. Aurora Leigh. Conclusion . . . . 107 


I. General Impression of Charlotte Bronte Thackeray's 
opinion of her Mrs. Gaskell and Mr. Wemyss 
Reid The Moors The Mother of the Brontes 
The Father's Poems . . 157 

viii Contents. 


II. Branwell Bronte Charlotte's Correspondence with 

Southey 168 

III. The Poems of the Sisters Emily Bronte . .180 

IV. Wuthering Heights 196 

V. Heathcliff and Cathy Old Joseph Isabella Linton 

Heathcliff 207 

VI. Heathcliff and Cathy Emily Bronte and Mr. G. H. 

Lewes ....... 221 

VII. Charlotte and Emily in Brussels Belgian Scenery 
The Professor Villette The School Scenes in 
Jane Eyre . . . . . . 23S 

VIII. Jane Eyre Thornfield Hall Meeting with Eochester . 247 
IX. Jane and Eochester Jane's Pictures The Mermaid 

Eochester's Plea ..... 262 

X. Charlotte Bronte's Defence of Jane Eyre Eochester 

an egotist .... . 278 

XI. Women's Eights The Ethics of Abnegation Mr. 

Meredith on Egotism Thackeray's moral analysis 291 
'XII. M. Paul Emanuel The Bronte lovers . . . 299 

XIII. Mr. Donne's Exodus Shirley the author's most charac- 
teristic book Mercenary Marriage A Day with 
Shirley The Duty of Endurance . . .311 

XIV. The Bronte genius The Yorkshire School of Litera- 
tureThe Deaths of the Sisters . 326 





I DON'T know that criticism wants any other 
vindication than that good critical writing is 
very pleasant reading. Mr. Buskin and Mr. Arnold 
have of late used words so dainty, bright, and ex- 
pressive in instructing us as to what true poetry 
is that, apart from the value of the lesson (which I 
estimate highly), we like the receiving of it. These 
eminent critics have laid stress mainly upon the 
selection of examples, not indeed excluding system 
and formula, but, on the whole, choosing rather to 
show what poetry is than to say. The method is a 
delightful one for the pupil, and the examples quoted 
by Mr. Buskin and Mr. Arnold are, with hardly an 
exception, so apt and beautiful, that I wish they could 
be indefinitely extended. But it is a method that 
obviously belongs of right only to those who have a 
great and just confidence in themselves. To such it 

xii Poetry. 

is given by the acclamation of their contemporaries, 
and the acquiescent consciousness of genius, to wield 
the sceptre of the realms of admiration ; to touch, 
with golden authority, this, that, and the other poetic 
gem, and to say, " These are admirable ; admire what 
are like these." I shrink from the presumption of 
adopting this imperial method. 

Sooth to say, however, there is another objection to 
this mode of teaching the art of poetical criticism. 
The samples, though chosen with infallible tact, can 
consist, severally, of but a few lines, and can bear no 
proportion to the works from which they are taken. 
If these are by great poets, the probability is that, for 
every line quoted, its author has written at least a 
thousand. A poem is an organised thing. That is 
self-evident and indisputable. From the lyric of three 
stanzas to the epic of four-and-twenty books, every 
true poem is a unity of many parts. Its' organisation 
is fine and complex, so fine, complex, and mysterious 
that Mr. Kuskin does not scruple to pronounce a true 
poem a living thing, and that not in mere meta- 
phorical illustration, but with aim at clear scientific 
precision. Now, a handful will tell you the quality of 
a quarter of wheat, a tumblerful will tell you the 
quality of a cubic league of sea- water, a chip will tell 
you the quality of a block of granite weighing a 
thousand tons ; but people have been very properly 
laughing for more than two thousand years at the 
man who carried about a brick as sample of a house, 
and a brick may give you much more information 

Criticism by Sample. xiii 

about a house than a line, or a couple of lines, or even 
a stray stanza, ahout a poem. If we add, what is 
again indisputable, that the greatest poets have weak, 
flat, bombastic passages, and that very little poets 
occasionally strike a lofty note, we shall have the more 
reason to distrust the critical method which depends 
upon selected lines or stanzas. Two critics, equally 
adroit and equally well read, would have no difficulty 
in bombarding each other with separate lines, to 
prove, in the one case, that Shakespeare was a great, 
in the other that he was not a great, poet ; and the 
simple hearer, unacquainted with Shakespeare's works, 
might find himself utterly unable, at the end of an 
hour, to decide as to the place he deserves to occupy 
among poets. 

But it is the simple reader, not the man whose 
born instinct and disciplined and cultured skill enable 
him to dispense with rules, that requires to be assisted 
to discriminate between excellent poetry and such as 
is not excellent ; and, in his interest, we may ask 
whether it is not possible to define the characteristics 
of true poetry generally, in such a way that he may 
intelligently assign a reason for considering one poet, 
on the whole, greater than another. In endeavouring 
to arrive at a comprehensive and at the same time 
practically useful criterion of excellence in poetry, I 
shall continue to avail myself of the pleasant help of 
Mr. Matthew Arnold, though not in a spirit of too 
servile pupilage. 

Poetry, as Mr. Arnold first and fundamentally con- 

xiv Poetry. 

ceives it, is " a criticism of life." More particularly it 
is " a criticism of life under the conditions fixed for 
such a criticism by the laws of poetic truth and 
poetic beauty." This addition, however, only seems 
to help us ; for it is clearly a truism to say that 
poetry is criticism under poetical conditions. We 
do not define an island when we call it land situated 
under insular conditions. The question is, What are 
the conditions which distinguish that criticism of life 
which is poetical from that criticism of life which is 
not poetical ? To have poetical value, he explains 
from Aristotle, criticism of life must have high truth 
and high seriousness it must, in both respects, be 
higher than history ; and excellent poetry is such as 
involves " the noble and profound application of ideas 
to life." 

Let us apply these principles to a passage quoted 
by Mr. Arnold from Wordsworth. 

Oh, for the coming of that glorious time 
When, prizing knowledge as her noblest wealth 
And best protection, this Imperial Bealm, 
While she exacts allegiance, shall admit 
. An obligation, on her part, to teach 
Them who are born to serve her and obey ; 
Binding herself by statute to secure, 
For all the children whom her soil maintains, 
The rudiments of letters, and inform 
The mind with moral and religious truth ! 

These lines accord well with Mr. Arnold's main 
conception of poetry. They are manifestly a criticism 
of life. No criticism could be more serious, and I do 
not see that any criticism could be more true. Does 

Mr. Arnold's Test. xv 

the passage not embrace, also, a " noble and profound 
application of ideas to life " ? What form of life could 
be presented to the imagination more august than that 
of a mighty nation? And what idea bearing upon 
national life could be nobler than that all the children 
belonging to a nation ought to be instructed ? Apply- 
ing Mr. Arnold's test, then, to these lines inquiring 
whether they exemplify a noble and profound appli- 
cation of ideas to life we are shut up to the con- 
clusion that they are excellent poetry. To our sur- 
prise, however, on turning to him for that confirma- 
tion of our decision which we have a right to expect, 
we are greeted with this estimate of the passage : 
" Wordsworth calls Voltaire dull, and surely the pro- 
duction of these un-Voltairian lines must have been 
imposed upon him as a judgment. One can hear 
them being quoted at a Social Science Congress ; one 
can call up the whole scene. A great room in one of 
our dismal provincial towns ; dusty air and jaded 
afternoon daylight ; benches full of men with bald 
heads and women in spectacles ; an orator lifting up 
his face from a manuscript written within and without 
to declaim these lines of Wordsworth ; and, in the 
soul of any poor child of nature who may have 
wandered in thither, an unutterable sense of lamenta- 
tion, and mourning, and woe ! " 

In other words, Mr. Arnold thinks Wordsworth's 
lines exceedingly bad poetry, so bad that only such 
persons as are worthy of bitter contempt would 
listen to them. Why the members of the Social 

xvi Poetry. 

Science Congress should be selected for anointing 
from the phials of Mr. Arnold's scorn, it is not easy 
to see. About the practical operations that precede 
pleasant results there is apt to be a certain dingi- 
ness, dreariness. Follow a gardener as he digs 
about and dungs young apple-trees, a school inspector 
as he examines stupid classes, a Florence Nightingale 
as she looks into the details of hospital work, and you 
will meet with matters as unromantic as the " dusty 
air and jaded afternoon daylight " in which " men 
with bald heads and women in spectacles " do their 
best to broaden the thin margin of white on the page 
of life, and find some anodyne for human pain. But it 
is not our present business to inquire into Mr. Mat- 
thew Arnold's view of the contemptibility of trying 
to bring scientific precision of thought and know- 
ledge into the operations of benevolence. What we 
are concerned with is the discovery that Mr. Arnold's 
quotation, himself being witness, is very defective 
poetry, although, to the best of our judgment, it is 
admirable criticism of life. It happens that I agree 
with Mr. Arnold that Wordsworth's lines are not of 
high poetical value ; but I hope to be able to assign a 
better reason for thinking so than is touched upon by 
Mr. Arnold's test. 

Let us take another example from Mr. Arnold. 
The poet is again Wordsworth. 

One adequate support 
For the calamities of mortal life 
Exists one only ; an assured belief 

Mr. Arnold's Test. xvii 

That the procession of our fate, howe'er 
Sad or disturbed, is ordered by a Being 
Of infinite benevolence and power ; 
Whose everlasting purposes embrace 
All accidents, converting them to good. 

Could any criticism of life be higher in its serious- 
ness, nobler in its tone, than this ? Those who dis- 
believe in the existence or providence of God will say 
that, for them, it is untrue criticism ; but it is difficult 
to see how any one should deny that, from the poet's 
standpoint, it is profound criticism. Were we treat- 
ing of the poet of a vanished civilisation, an extinct 
religion, we should be constrained to admit that lines 
into which he condensed the quintessence of that con- 
solation which all races and tribes of men accepting 
the religion in question had derived from it were, as 
criticism of life, both noble and profound. Here, too, 
however, Mr. Arnold holds that the lines are not good 
poetry. They fail, he says, to exhibit "the characters 
of poetic truth." We have a fair smile at Mr. Arnold 
for his italics, and remind him that he has been teach- 
ing us that criticism of life, qualified by a few adjec- 
tives true, serious, profound, noble, each taken in a 
very high degree is excellent poetry. He was bound 
to show either that the lines are shallow and ignoble 
as criticism of life, or that they are not inferior as 
poetry. I do not think the poetical quality of Mr. 
Arnold's second quotation so poor as that of his first ; 
but I do not think it is poetically worth much. 
And again I think I can assign a reason for this 

xviii Poetry. 

estimate more tenable than its worth or worth- 
lessness as a criticism of life. 

Once more I take a sample from Mr. Arnold. It is 
now Shakespeare that is the poet, the lines occurring 
in Henry the Fourth's expostulation with sleep. 

Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast 

Seal up the ship-boy's eyes, and rock his brains 

In cradle of the rude, imperious surge ? 

Can it be alleged that, in any practical, tangible, 
not fantastic sense, these lines contain any criticism 
of life whatever ? They are an exceedingly imagina- 
tive a most picturesque and powerful description 
of the influence of sleep in lulling into unconscious- 
ness all sense of danger, all capacity of joy or pain ; 
but as a criticism of life they can scarcely be weighed 
or measured, and no one could aver that, in serious- 
ness or profoundity of meaning, they excel a grave 
summing-up of the consolation mankind has derived 
from the consciousness of God. Yet Mr. Arnold tells 
us that these lines are unsurpassably fine poetry. I 
agree with him for reasons that will presently appear; 
but in the meantime I reiterate the question, "What 
profit can be had of a test of poetic quality that fails 
so egregiously? Mr. Arnold's criterion is like the 
Bank Act made to be suspended exactly in those 
emergencies which it was intended to provide against. 
We should want Mr. Arnold always at our elbow to 
apply, or rectify, or suspend his own test. His 
intuitive perception of what is excellent in poetry, 
and what is not excellent, may be so trustworthy that 

Definition of Poetry. xix 

it enables him to dispense with his own formula; but 
less gifted or cultured persons are driven to inquire 
whether it cannot be replaced by a better. 

Mr. Arnold goes astray at the outset in seeking a 
definition of poetry by reference to the judging 
faculty. Criticism of life is not primarily or dis- 
tinctively the function of the poet. If it were, man- 
kind would have been wrong in placing Aristotle, 
Plato, Epicurus in one category, and Homer, Sopho- 
cles, Pindar in another. There is no criticism of life 
better than that of Bacon's Essays, yet these are not 
poetry at all. Professor Huxley was right, on the 
other hand, when, one day lately at Birmingham, he 
claimed for science a place of importance in the 
criticism of life. Doubtless and the remark is of 
moment criticism of life is involved in poetry, but 
it is not distinctive of poetry, it belongs to prose as 
well as to poetry. 

The fundamental idea on which a sound and a prac- 
tically useful definition of poetry may be based will be 
found indicated by Wordsworth himself. In the 
beginning of his sonnet to the painter, Haydon, are 
these words : 

High is our calling, Friend ! Creative Art 
(Whether the instrument of words she use, 
Or pencil pregnant with ethereal hues). 

Poetry is that branch of creative art which works 
in and with harmonious words. The essential cha- 
racteristic of all art is that it makes something ; 
the arts distinctively called useful serving the body, 


xx Poetry. 

the arts distinctively called fine serving the soul. 
Science looks upon the universe and asks what is 
the relation between its parts, what are its pro- 
cesses of change, what is going on beneath its sur- 
face. Art looks out upon nature and upon man, 
rejoicing in the vision ; essays to imitate, to re- 
present it ; and, from its materials, visions forth a 
world of- man's own, the world of music, sculpture, 
painting, poetry. A simple and adequate principle 
of classification and distinction between these is 
obtained by reference to the materials with which 
they work. Poetry is the most spiritual and the 
liighest of the arts ; by the more than magical spell 
of words, she makes all other arts her vassals. ~ 

Aristotle traces poetry to imitation ; Bacon, in 
dealing with the same subject, lays stress upon ima- 
gination. There is beyond question, as Professor 
Masson has pointed out, a certain antithetic opposi- 
tion in their ways of viewing the matter ; but there is, 
I submit, a still deeper agreement. Aristotle himself 
affords the hint on which a reconciliation between 
their views can be effected. The poet, he says, may 
imitate in one of three ways showing men better than 
they are, worse than they are, or as they are. The 
first of these Homer's way he describes as pro- 
ducing the noblest poetry ; and this is obviously what 
Bacon would have called the imaginative, the improv- 
ing, the idealising poetry. 

I discussed this matter very carefully a good many 
years ago, and I may be permitted to quote from my- 

Imitation. xxi 

self some sentences relating to the importance of the 
instinct of imitation, as giving the initiative in art. " It 
was characteristic of the unimpassioned and comprehen- 
sive observation, the strong sense, and the masculine 
simplicity of Aristotle, to make this instinct his start- 
ing-point in his theory of poetry. In so doing, he 
virtually recorded the suffrages of the great mass of 
mankind. I once had an opportunity of observing 
the play of the great human instinct of imitation in a 
fresh and interesting manner. I was in conversation 
with a mechanic, on board a steamer, in one of the 
most magnificent estuaries of our island. My com- 
panion was a rough-hewn, sturdy, hard-working man, 
thoroughly read, as very many of our mechanics are, 
in the political history of the day, but who had pro- 
bably reflected little, or not at all, on theories of art. 
The time was summer, and the general tone of the 
landscape was that of still grandeur and majestic 
calm. The atmosphere, though cloudless, was suf- 
fused with faint vapour, and bathed the prospect in a 
pale brilliancy of light. From right and left the 
mountains stooped undulating to the bay, the tint of 
their green, softened by the pearly veil of air, melting 
into the amethystine floor of sea. One or two yachts, 
slim and graceful, cleft tenderly the glistening ripples, 
amid the general serenity of radiance, like maidens 
stepping delicately in the dance to the mild music ' of 
the breeze. The combination of splendour with a 
certain faintness and pallor in the aspect of the scene 
as if nature, oppressed with light, had grown 

c 2 

xxii Poetry. 

languid in this hour of Pan was somewhat remark- 
able. My admiration was awakened, and I called the 
attention of my fellow-passenger to the beauty of the 
prospect. He expressed sympathy with my feelings, 
but passed instantly to another emotion, which was 
called forth more vividly in his own breast. He spoke 
of the keen desire, instantly experienced by the be- 
holder, to copy such a picture. The pleasure he had 
in possession, arising from his sensibility to the beauty 
of the scene before him, was evidently slight in his 
estimation, compared with that pleasure at which he 
conceptively grasped in reproducing it for himself." 

The artist is, first of all, the man who, awakening 
to the world of nature in his youth, is stirred by 
irrepressible longing to take some copy of it, to repro- 
duce its sights or its sounds, to express the feelings 
and thoughts it calls forth within him, to fashion f 
produce, create from its materials a something, be it a, 
statue, be it a landscape, be it an epic poem, be it a. 
lyric song, which he can call his own, a something on 
which his spirit shall look with unique and ravishing- 
gladness, as a man looks upon his first-born son. It 
is this impulse that makes the future Mrs. Browning" 
flood her father's parsonage with her singing before 
she is eight years old. It is this impulse that sends 
the idle boy from the noisy crowd of his playfellows 
up into the still pavilion of a leafy tree, where, 
literally like a bird among the boughs, he may pour 
forth reams of puerile verse. It is this impulse 
which sets the keen-eyed, nimble-fingered child, 

The Criterion. xxiii 

William Turner, to scratch copies of everything he 
sees, if only with a pin on a pewter plate, and which, 
when power has yielded to age, and the eye is becom- 
ing filmed, makes him still insist on having, by the 
bed on which he lies dying, the pigments and the 
pencils that remind him of the glorious sovereignty 
of his art. 

In seeking, therefore, a practically useful criterion 
of greatness, of excellence, of degree of merit in 
poetry, we are not to ask, in the first place, how the 
poet in question criticises life, but how much of nature 
and life he reproduces, and whether he reproduces 
greatly or not greatly; only in the second place, as 
having a highly important bearing on the general 
character and quality of his poetry, are we to inquire 
into his criticism of life. 

This criterion has the advantage of exceeding prac- 
ticality. It is derived from a broad view, first of all 
art and then of poetry. Any one can apply it. 
Glance, for example, at those whom the world has 
decided to enthrone as the greatest of poets. Homer 
embodies in the Iliad a whole form of civilisation, 
a long since vanished type of manners, usages, beliefs, 
feelings, relations. From Olympus, where the upper 
ten, or rather the upper twelve, of heaven sit on 
their golden three-legged stools, and Zeus keeps the 
universe with ease, and his wife with difficulty, at 
bay, and the celestial meal is enlivened by inex- 
tinguishable laughter at the limping Hephaistos, to 
the shore where the black ships of the Achaians are 

xxiv Poetry. 

drawn up, and dogs and vultures are feeding on the 
pestilential corpses that taint the carnp, and the king 
of men and the prince of heroes are engaging in a, 
fierce brawl about a stolen girl, and Ther sites is 
railing, and Nestor is praising the past, and Chryses- 
is harping on his daughter, all that stirring world 
is vividly present to us. It is ideal, visionary, painted 
on the mind's retina by the miracle-working power of 
Homer's imagination ; and yet the personages in the 
scene are intensely real, the human character, whether 
seen under Olympian conditions or those of mortality, 
is utterly true to the human character of to-day. 

Dante is another of the poets whose work is uni- 
versally acknowledged to be of sovereign excellence. 
His great poem represents a succession of regions 
peopled with human creatures, displaying an immense 
variety of character and passion. The mediaeval age 
is almost as comprehensively, almost as graphically, 
portrayed in the Divine Comedy as the heroic age of 
Greece is portrayed in the Iliad. Once more, Shake- 
speare brings to the actual world of his time a more 
subtle and penetrating observation, a more compre- 
hensive sympathy, a mightier imagination than either 
Homer or Dante, and the world of his art embraces 
a still larger number of typical characters, a still 
wider vision of human affairs and human life than 

It is interesting, and can hardly be uninstructive, to 
observe that Keats, himself a fine poet and critic, 
instinctively contemplates the work of poets from the 

How to Apply the Test. xxv 

point of view I have been suggesting. Excellent 
poems are, for him, " goodly states and kingdoms," 
"islands," " which bards in fealty to Apollo hold." 
He had heard of the spacious realm that owned the 
sway of Homer ; but he had not really known it till 
Chapman revealed it to him. Was it then a new 
" criticism of life," or a new world bodied forth to the 
eye of imagination, that he was aware of? 

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies, 
When a new planet swims into his ken. 

In applying our test, it will be conducive to intelli- 
gence and perspicuity to distinguish the two elements- 
which it embraces, to wit, what the poet takes from 
nature, and what the poet gives to nature. The spirit 
of man creates nothing out of nothing, and it will be 
found that the quality and value of what a poet pro- 
duces depend upon the power with which he can ob- 
serve, and upon the richness of the materials which are 
used by his imagination in its constructions. In the 
actual exercise of the poetic gift, the two processes 
observation, imagination may go together in the 
same moment of time, and the exact relation between 
the two, in any case of high and original production, 
is too subtle for analysis; but both are necessarily 
present, and very useful suggestions as to the order of 
greatness in which poets are to be classified may be 
derived from simply considering what they chiefly 
observe, what supremely interests and delights them. 

Poets of one class observe the beauties of nature 
with exquisite accuracy, but have, comparatively 

xx vi Poetry. 

speaking, no hold upon the interests, passions, 
thoughts, activities of men. These poets love colour 
for its own sake, form for its own sake, and are 
consummate in execution. With the warring, the 
working, the passionate loving, of the dusty throng 
around them, they have little sympathy ; from hu- 
manity they ask only such lovely tints and hues as 
may afford play to their artistic skill. Their highest 
name, perhaps, is Keats. In delicate felicity of execu- 
tion his work will challenge comparison with any the 
world ever saw. Shakespeare himself cannot excel 
him in his own walk. But he cares little for common 
interests, common feelings, common life. A hundred 
generations of fighting men have thrilled to the harp, 
or to echoes from the harp, of Homer. The grey- 
haired farmer, as he harnesses his old mare, thinks of 
the genial notes of Burns. The furnaceman, as he 
groans and sweats, is happier because Schiller sang 
the song of the bell. But what ploughman or black- 
smith ever heard the name of Keats ? what carpenter, 
as he plied adze or hammer, what fisherman, as he 
furled his sail, ever murmured a ditty of the London 
School? They are experts writing for experts. 

But the power of fresh and vivid delineation of 
beautiful objects in nature is a true mark of poetical 
genius. If, indeed, we might venture on any one 
assertion respecting the poets of all climes and 
periods, it would be that they had a sense of keen 
enjoyment in the beauties of nature. Homer did 
not describe particular flowers, or dwell upon the 

Nature's Beauty. xxvii 

features of a landscape for their own sake ; but there 
is a pervasive feeling of the open air in his poetry, 
and he is constantly referring to the sea, or to 
starry nights, and knows better than any London or 
Lake poet the proper office of flowers to heighten, by 
gush of sympathetic radiance, the impassioned joy of 
lovers. In modern poetry, however, this gift of 
graphic presentation of the beauty of nature plays a 
much more important part than in ancient poetry ; 
and, though it may be in excess, and may thus offend 
a masculine taste, its presence must be pronounced 
indispensable to all poetry that will satisfy the de- 
mands of modern readers. The more artificial society 
becomes, the more we are pent up in smoke-darkened 
cities, the more enchanting, probably, will be those 
talismanic touches whereby the poet suddenly wafts 
us into far-away woods, or places us again on the hill- 
side or the river-brink where we played in childhood. 
Nature being, to all practical intents, infinite, the 
secret of freshness in describing her beauties lies in 
the habit of first-hand observation. If you watch the 
breakers as they crash on the shore when the scour of 
the receding wave suddenly takes their feet from under 
them, if you try to count and name the colours of the 
stranded foam in full sunlight, while the breeze passes 
over it, fluttering its myriad emeralds and rubies and 
amethysts and topazes, if you note the character- 
istic groupings and humours of the clouds in any 
one locality, you will find that no poet or painter 
can exhaust nature's variety. It would not be easy 

xxviii Poetry. 

to find a better example of that kind of description 
by which modern poets bring nature's facts not only 
to the eye, but to the ear, than we have in Mr. 
Arnold's admirable poem on Dover Beach. 

Come to the window, sweet is the night air ! 

Only, from the long line of spray 

Where the ebb meets the moon -blanch 'd sand, 

Listen ! you hear the grating roar 

Of pebbles which the waves suck back, and fling, 

At their return, up the high strand, 

Begin, and cease, and then again begin, 

With tremulous cadence slow, and bring 

The eternal note of sadness in. 

We may be sure that no man who has not this eye 
for nature will obtain recognition and honour among 
modern poets ; it is more, perhaps, from the deadness 
of their sense on this side than from any other charac- 
teristic that Dry den, Pope, Johnson are firmly and 
unanimously denied the distinctive glory of poets by 
the present generation. The lilies of the field are in 
array against them. They have said no tender, heart- 
felt things, instinct with music, about the birds and 
the brooks. Not one of those splendidly clever, keenly 
intellectual men, felt about a daisy like Chaucer or 
like Burns. I do not believe that any one of them 
had such delight in the sea, and the stars, and in green 
meadows, as old Homer. It has become second nature 
with us to exact from our poets, as an indispensable 
pledge of tenderness, sweetness, melodiousness, that 
they shall take us with them to the country. 

Poetry, viewed in relation to the poet, is lan- 
guage uttered under the influence of that glow of 

The Poetic Glow. xxix 

the spirit which renders it picture to the eye and 
music to the ear. The poetic product may be a little 
thing or a great thing, a lyric or an epic, a single 
vase or a town with all its towers ; but now, as in the 
days of Orpheus and Amphion, it arises before the 
eye, and it arises to strains of music. The poet re- 
joices in his work. No word is truer than this : 

What poets feel not, when they make, 

A pleasure in creating, 
The world, in its turn, will not take 

Pleasure in contemplating. 

Mr. Matthew Arnold gives this as a caution to poets; 
I respectfully suggest that it may be useful also as a. 
caution to critics who are tempted to think that poetry 
can be denned as criticism of life. 

Music is the mother-tongue of joy nature's mode 
of expressing rapture in sentient beings. Science has- 
in these last times taught us to compare and connect 
nature's methods with each other throughout all the 
families of life ; and we now know to be a fact, what 
might formerly have passed for a mere flourish of 
rhetoric, that the nightingale illuminating the night 
of the spring woods with song is a lyric poet, and 
that, by fundamentally the same law that sets the 
nightingale singing, the fountains of exultant power, 
of joyful sympathy, of delight in nature, of affection 
for man, overflow in the poet in melodious words. 

The poetic glow is, of course, like all the most 
important facts, a mystery. To analyse it into its 
elements, to understand and classify its methods of 

xxx Poetry. 

operation, may well be beyond us. What criticism, 
modestly observant of the workings of genius, can 
do is to distinguish a few of its more notable 

One of these, first perhaps in the order of im- 
portance and distinctiveness, is its tendency to make 
the poet view all things as alive. If the reader 
has not remarked this unique quality of poetic 
genius, he will be surprised to observe its uni- 
versality, and the sharpness with which it divides the 
most accomplished versifier from the poet. It is 
more or less an accident whether the poet writes in 
the form of verse or the form of prose, but be sure, if 
he is a poefc, that he scatters largesse of life abroad 
upon creation. If he is not a poet, he cannot do this. 
He may array his figures with exquisite taste, adorn 
them with jewels, crown them with gold; but they will 
be wooden figures after all. He may apostrophise 
flowers and trees : he may speak very finely about the 
whisperings of Windsor Forest and the tuneful gliding 
of the Thames ; but he does not Pope, for example, 
does not in the least believe in his own illusion. Mr. 
Buskin, on the other hand, though he unfortunately 
abandoned the metrical forms which he used in boy- 
.hood with richly promising skill, constantly betrays 
the essentially poetical character of his mind by giving 
life to all he loves, to all that intensely interests him. 
The crossing ripples of the tidal wave advancing on the 
shore are for him children kissing and clapping hands ; 
the mountain flowers come forth to his eye, " crowded 

Poetic Life. xxxi 

for very love," crushing their leaves into strange shapes 
" only to be nearer each other; " and the delicate pines 
"follow each other along the soft hill-ridges up and 
down." Homer knew perfectly well that the mortality 
in the Greek camp spoken of in the first book of the 
Iliad was occasioned by disease arising from the heat 
of the sun, and that dogs and men, dying of plague, 
are not struck with arrows. He speaks expressly of 
disease. And yet, with the glow of poetic vision and 
creative imagination in heart and brain, he sees, and 
cannot help seeing, Apollo, the angry sun-god, striding 
along the mountains, the silver arrows in his quiver 
clanging behind him as he moves, and taking up his 
position opposite the Greek camp, and bending his 
bow. Shelley gives life to winter, making it a colossal 
giant, with the wind for a whip. 

He had torn the cataracts from the hills, 
And they clanked at his girdle like manacles. 

Shelley's sensitive plant is as alive as one of Kuskin's 
pines, and nature becomes beautifully and tenderly 
alive around her. 

A sensitive plant in a garden grew, 
The young winds fed her with silver dew, 
And she opened her fan-like leaves to the light, 
And closed them beneath the kisses of night. 

He who has not this life-giving power is no poet ; he 
who possesses it, appearing from the fact of his pos- 
sessing it to be either inspired or a maniac, as we inter- 
pret his symptoms, is a poet. If he is a great poet, he 
gives life to men, he dowers his Achilles or his Hector 

xxxii Poetry. 

with an immortality that will be fresh when Cheops 
and his pyramid are "blown about the desert dust ; " 
if he is a true but not a great- poet, he cannot, imagi- 
natively, give life to men, but he fancifully gives life to 
a thousand inanimate things : in all cases, where there 
is no life there is no poetry, where there is the life of 
fancy there is true poetry, where there is the life of 
imagination there is great poetry. 

If now we glance back at those lines quoted by Mr. 
Arnold from Wordsworth, and pronounced by him to 
be inferior poetry, we shall, I think, find grounds for 
considering them such without reference to their 
quality as criticism of life. What they want is not 
critical depth or accuracy in dissertating on life, but 
life itself. They have the calculating self-possession 
of prose ; the eye of the writer, as he gravely recites 
them, is not dilated and inflamed by the ecstasy of 
poetic vision. England is an " Imperial Eealm." A 
geographical, political, thoroughly prosaic expression ! 
Turn to Milton's prose, often grander in its rhythm 
than his verse, and note how he gives imaginative life 
to England, whether, as an eagle mewing her mighty 
youth, or as a veiled mother weeping for her banished 
children, and learn the difference between genuine 
poetic work and those lines which Mr. Arnold quotes 
from Wordsworth. Applying our principle to the 
three lines quoted from Shakespeare, we find that they 
are a vivid picture, the mind's eye of the dullest reader 
being compelled to see the ship-boy on the giddy mast, 
rocked in the cradle of the surge, while sleep draws 

Metrical Form. xxxiii 

near to him. a subtle, mysterious, living thing, to lull 
him into fatal slumber. This is faultless poetry, 
though perhaps it shows Shakespeare in his highest 
fanciful rather than in his strictly imaginative power ; 
but I do not see how, as a criticism of life, any high 
value can be attached to the lines. 

It will probably be felt, and justly felt, by practical 
readers, that criticism is bound to give a more precise 
account than I have yet attempted of the association 
between poetry and metrical form. Though poetry 
may occur in the form of prose, it never occurs with- 
out cadence, without rhythmic swell and melody, in 
one word, without tune ; and verse is its legitimate, its 
consummate form. The poet who writes in prose has 
never succeeded in " beating his music out." Perfect 
verse, then, is the most precious and enchanting illus- 
trative instance that exists, of that law of modulated 
continuity, of measured progression, of ordered move- 
ment, of living balance and symmetry, which pervades 
nature. The expansion and contraction of the lungs 
in respiration, the beat of the pulse, the rise and fall 
of rippling waves, the succession of leaves on the 
branch, the lull and swell in gales, are cases in which 
the law is observed. The earliest dawn of art, in the 
strict sense, as distinguished from mere compliance 
with the demands of animal nature, is in law and 
order. The savage who covers his water-jug with con- 
fused scratches, not for any pleasure they give him, but 
in sheer vacancy of mind, has not made the first step 
in fine art ; but when he draws a steady line round its 

xxxiv Poetry. 

neck, or two lines parallel to each other, or zigzag 
lines in a definite order, he is on the threshold of art ; 
and when he puts one broad line in the middle, and 
two thin lines, one on each side, or remarks that a 
curved line becomes more interesting from being 
opposed to a straight line, then he has struck upon 
that leading principle of all composition, contrast, and 
is prepared to grapple with the problem that presents 
itself to artists in every province, the combination of 
breadth with variety. The earliest efforts in poetry 
and in music the two probably went together were 
doubtless of a kind corresponding to those rude yet 
ordered lines and zigzags which we find on prehistoric 
pottery, lilts in which the low, sweet monotone was 
suddenly interrupted by the shrill notes of surprise, 
delight, or apostrophe. Speech in all races, though 
custom may have dulled our ears to its apprehension, 
proceeds with more or less of wave-motion, associated 
with respiration and the correlated physical conditions ; 
and when there is strong and noble emotion the wave- 
measure becomes more marked, the tones more full, 
melodious, and thrilling. Poetry in its purest form 
which I agree with Mr. Pater in holding lyrical poetry 
to be has always been directly associated with music, 
and the primeval bard was doubtless a singer. In all 
impassioned feeling there is pitch, modulation, corre- 
spondence between the feeling and the sound. " In 
the spring a fuller crimson comes upon the robin's 
breast." That is one of nature's arrangements. In 
the spring a deeper, clearer, more melodious rapture 

The Song-element. xxxv 

comes into the nightingale's voice. That again is one 
of nature's facts. In all the spring-tides of human 
emotion, in the elevation of intense and noble 
sympathy with all great human interests, the passion 
of the feeling announces itself both in the colour and 
the modulation of the speech, picture, as I said 
before, unfolding itself to music. 

When, therefore, Mr. Carlyle, in his epoch-making 
essay on Burns, laid stress upon the test of melody as 
enabling us to discriminate between prose and poetry, 
between eloquence and song, he put his finger on one 
of those truths which ought not to be forgotten or dis- 
carded ; and Mr. Matthew Arnold, in referring us to 
true and serious, noble and profound, criticism of life 
as a criterion of poetical excellence, does not take us 
beyond the point to which Carlyle conducted us, but 
back from it. Edgar Poe was very right when he said 
that a good off-hand way of gauging the poetical 
quality of verse was to write it in form of prose, and 
try whether it still forced us to feel that it was poetry. 
Of lyrical poetry it may, I think, be stated universally 
that, if the reader does not feel himself under some 
impulse to sing or chant it if he can recite it with 
perfect comfort while taking no account of the division 
into metrical feet or into lines it is not good lyric 
poetry. You feel the song-element in this of Victor 

Hugo : 

Je suis le Cid calme et sombre, 

Je n'achete ni ne vend, 
Et je n'ai sur moi que 1'ombre 
De la main de Dieu vivant. 

xxxvi Poetry. 

The attainment of perfect modulation will imply choice 
of the most picturesque and expressive words, and it is- 
characteristic of a young poet that such words have a 
charm for him and are hoarded in his memory. Of 
such precious stones his poetical architecture will be 
built. The melody and charm of the verse are 
heightened also, not only by just and powerful 
thought and by noble feeling, but by every one of a 
thousand nameless touches and tones of association, by 
which the poetical fancy and the poetical imagination, 
working with all the spells of remembered fact and 
metaphorical enhancement, can suggest pleasant places 
and happy hours. All nature is a harp for the poetical 
imagination, and by an apt metaphor, or assemblage 
of metaphors, the emotion which the poet expresses is 
suddenly and transcendently excited. 

The pale moon is setting beyond the white wave, 
And time is setting wi' me. 

No words can measure the heightening of the impres- 
sion of sadness wrought by such a tone of nature's 
music as that. 

The moonshine, stealing o'er the scene, 

Had blended with the lights of eve, 
And she was there, my hope, my joy, 
My own dear Genevieve. 

Here it is the serene exaltation of intensest joy that 
is expressed, and again the power of the metaphoric 
spell is beyond all measuring. A single line will show 
that a man has the poet's ear for melodious words, 

Sweet closes the evening on Craigie-burn wood. 
The charm of true poetry is a subtle, complex, and 

Wordsivortli. xxxvii 

unique charm, having many elements ; but it depends 
mainly on this, that it combines the intense delight- 
fulness of law with the intense delightfulness of free- 
dom. Law is charming, even in zigzag lines ; how 
much more, then, in the wave-like, star-like movement 
of perfect verse : freedom is charming, even in the frolic 
wind or flying cloud ; how much more in the bounding 
ecstasy of lyric song. 

Mr. Arnold, illustrating his principles of poetical 
criticism by an example of their application, under- 
takes to prove Wordsworth superior to any poet 
that appeared in Europe between the death of 
Milton and the rise of poets still living, with the 
single exception of Goethe. Victor Hugo he specifi- 
cally includes among the poets to whom Wordsworth 
is superior. To this decision I by no means assent ; 
and we cannot have better practice in the use of 
those tests which we have been endeavouring to frame 
than in examining this claim on behalf of Words- 
worth put forward by his adroit and gifted advocate. 

Mr. Arnold dwells upon " the extraordinary power 
with which Wordsworth feels the joy offered to us in 
nature, the joy offered to us in the simple primary 
affections and duties," and " the extraordinary power 
with which, in case after case, he shows us this joy, 
and renders it so as to make us share it." This is " the 
cause " of the " greatness " of Wordsworth's poetry. 
"Here," says Mr. Arnold, " is an immense advantage 
for a poet." 

Without question he is a great poet who shows 

d 2 

xxxviii Poetry. 

the joy of simple affections and duties with ex- 
traordinary power, and makes his readers share it ; 
"but I dispute the extraordinary power of the Words- 
ivorthian display of simple joy, and I still more 
-strongly dispute the Wordsworthian capacity to 
make us share that joy. Wordsworth has a com- 
prehensive and honest sense of the pleasantness of 
nature, and can reproduce with accuracy many of 
nature's sights and sounds. No one knows or shows 
the pleasure of a fine day better than Wordsworth. 
But that exultation which great poets have in human 
joy, and which certainly is a note of great poetry, is 
slightly shared by Wordsworth. I do not deny that 
there are traces of it in his works', but they are few, 
and there is little depth or vehemence in their joy. 
The power of music to enrapture a street crowd, the 
power of reverie to make a country girl in London 
see a river flowing down the vale of Cheapside, the 
power of cocks crowing, streams flowing, small 
birds twittering, cattle feeding, to make a poet, 
who has nothing to do but to watch them, happy 
these, with some glad stanzas about the ethereal min- 
strelsy of the lark, almost exhaust the joy-producing 
strains which Mr. Arnold puts into the volume in 
which he embodies Wordsworth's main achievement 
in poetry. On the other hand, how profoundly de- 
pressing are Wordsworth's poems generally ! Mr. Ar- 
nold speaks of simple joys, but the pieces he applauds 
have no gleam of joy in them. Michael, The Brothers, 
Ruth, Lucy, Margaret, and I know not how many 

Wordsworth's Sadness. xxxix: 

others, are unutterably mournful. To step into the 
poetic realms of Goethe or Schiller is to step into a. 
land of abounding life and splendour and, joy ; but to 
walk with Wordsworth is to be sad. What poet has 
said such mournful things? For what poet are " all 
the ways of men so vain and melancholy ' ' ? Hera 
is his own account : 

We poets in our youth begin in gladness ; 

But thereof comes in the end despondency and madness. 

He writes with pretty fancying, almost mirthful,, 
about the small celandine ; but once he takes another 
tone, and it seems to come from a far deeper region 
in his soul. He had often noticed the flower muffling 
itself up when hailstones were falling, and coming out 
again bright as the sun itself when the storm was- 
over. Once, however, he observed a change, and thus 
describes what he saw and what he thought : 

But lately, one rough day, this flower I passed, 
And recognised it, though an altered form, 

Now standing forth an offering to the blast, 
And buffeted at will by rain and storm. 

I stopped, and said, with inly-muttered voice, 
" It doth not love the shower, nor seek the cold ; 

This neither is its courage nor its choice, 
But its necessity in being old." 

The weariness with which man toils along in his 
pilgrimage, the dumb forces of nature always like 
invisible enemies bearing him back the hopelessness 
of the conflict with old age the heart-heaviness and 
desolation that overtake the honest Michaels and 
Margarets, in spite of their industry and worth 

xl Poetry. 

these are the impressions that remain with one after 
reading Wordsworth's poems. Of the sunlight of 
exultation with which poets of more humour, of more 
jocund and mirthful power, disperse or illumine the 
mists that shroud the world, there is in Wordsworth 
singularly little. He does, indeed, rest upon the con- 
solations of religion. With placid faith, that seems 
never seriously moved by the sorrows he poetically 
describes, he trusts that the impotence of human 
grieving will some day be supplemented by Infinite 
Power, and that God will mend all. This is a very 
great consolation, and in placing it, as he does, in 
many impressive lights, Wordsworth is, perhaps, at 
Ms best ; but this is exactly that part of Words- 
worth's "criticism of life" which Mr. Arnold thinks 
commonplace and homiletical. 

Looking more particularly into Wordsworth's poet- 
ical workmanship, I submit that he adds less to 
nature, exercises less of imaginative power, than 
belongs to great poetry. Mr. Arnold takes a bold 
course in dealing with this part of his subject, alleging 
that what I must regard as a fatal defect is a tran- 
scendent merit. " Nature herself seems " these are 
his emphatic and eloquent words "I say, to take the 
pen out of his hand, and to write for him with her 
own bare, sheer, penetrating power. This arises from 
two causes from the profound sincereness with which 
Wordsworth feels his subject, and also from the pro- 
foundly sincere and natural character of his subject 
itself. He can and will treat such a subject with 

Wordsworth's Poetic Method. xli 

nothing but the most plain, first-hand, almost austere 
naturalness. His expression may often be called bald 
as, for instance, in the poem of 'Resolution and In- 
dependence but it is bald as the bare mountain tops 
are bald, with a baldness which is full of grandeur." 

Is it imagination too mighty to endure any but the 
naked majesty of nature, or is it sheer lack of 
imaginative power, that characterises Wordsworth's 
poetic method? That is the question. Mr. Arnold 
tells us that even he cannot read Vaudracour and 
Julia. I beg to ask why. The language of the piece 
is quite on a level with Wordsworth's usual writing 

nay, unusually felicitous. 

Oh, balmy time, 

In which a love -knot on a lady's brow 
Is fairer than the fairest star in heaven 1 

The following lines, on Vaudracour's love for Julia, 
are about as good as you will find anywhere in Words- 

Earth breathed in one great presence of the spring, 

Life turned the meanest of her implements, 

Before his eyes, to price above all gold ; 

The house she dwelt in was a sainted shrine : 

Her chamber window did surpass in glory 

The portals of the dawn ; all paradise 

Could, by the simple opening of a door, 

Let itself in upon him. 

If Wordsworth had often expressed the joy of 
noble passion with such power, I should not have 
denied him a place among those poets whose music 
gladdens the world for us. Nevertheless, Vaudracour 
and Julia is, as a whole, unreadable even by so 

xlii Poetry. 

fervent a Wordsworthian as Mr. Arnold, and I ask 
the reason why. The secret, I am convinced, lies- 
in this that it is literal fact no more. The passion 
of Vaudracour for Julia, simple, intense, generous 
self-forgetting; the locust pride of his family, eating 
off every green leaf of hope, every opening bud of 
joy, in his bosom and hers ; the dismal end in Julia's 
being immured in a convent, and Vaudracour's be- 
coming a drivelling idiot all this is detailed with the 
literal precision of a transcript from nature. There- 
fore it is oppressive in the sense in which a descrip- 
tion of any hideous calamity, any social horror, drawn 
out in mere statistical prose, is oppressive a news- 
paper account, for example, of a woman found by the 
police sitting, starved to death, by a fireless grate in 
winter ; a father taking his boy from the house in 
which he is being cared for, and hanging him up like 
a dog ; a steamer run into on the river, and six hun- 
dred persons screeching and drowning in the water. 
Told in the dreariest prose, these things affect us, but 
not as art affects us. There is nothing in the bare 

'narrative of them to impart that redeeming spell 
whereby imaginative handling lends fascination to 
i sorrow, and attracts us again, again, and yet again, to 
contemplate the woes of Juliet and Romeo, of Othello 
and Desdemona, of Lear and Cordelia, of the chained 
and vulture-torn Prometheus. 

Now you will find, if you look, that Wordsworth's 
method in Vaudracour and Julia is his habitual 
method an unimaginative method. Mr. Arnold 

Wordsworth's Imagination. xliii 

admits that a very large proportion of Wordsworth's 
work is unimaginative. He throws overboard even so 
Wordsworthian and so extensive a performance as 
The Excursion, But he avers that Wordsworth's- 
imagination, when it does awake, is extremely power- 
ful. "No poet, perhaps," he says, "is so evidently 
filled with a new and sacred energy when the inspira- 
tion is upon him." I am not prepared to deny that 
the author of The Affliction of Margaret, Laodamia, . 
several of the odes, a good many of the sonnets, and 
some other pieces, was possessed of imagination ; but 
what has most deeply impressed me in connection 
with Wordsworth's imagination is the rarity of its ' 
awakenings, and the slow and grave character of its. \ 
action even when awake. No piece of writing i 
could be more intensely true than The Affliction 
of Margaret ; Wordsworth, in that poem, gets into 
the inmost recesses of a bereaved mother's heart, and 
only imagination could have brought him there. The 
fire of imagination burns his own theory of imaginative 
expression to ashes ; and he makes the woman speak 
to her son in language elevated by passion until it has- 
more of Shakespearean exaltation than of Words- 
worthian simplicity. 

Perhaps some dungeon hears thee groan, 
Maimed, mangled by inhuman men ; 

Or thou upon a desert thrown 
Inheritest the lion's den ; 

Or hast been summoned to the deep, 

Thou, thou and all thy mates, to keep 

An incommunicable sleep. 

xliv Poetry. 

Deeply characteristic of Wordsworth is the utter 
sadness of the poem as if his main conception of 
man's lot were that of painful, hopeless, life-long 
breathing with a gravestone on the breast. Here, as 
so often with Wordsworth, there is no help ; strange 
to say, in this his mood of deadly earnestness, he per- 
mits to his sufferer no glimpse of light from those 
celestial countries, from that Father's home, to which 
lie so often, and with faith so placid, refers. 

I look for ghosts ; but none will force 
Their way to me : 'tis falsely said 

That there was ever intercourse 
Between the living and the dead ; 

For, surely, then I should have sight 

Of him I wait for day and night, 

With love and longings infinite. 

But to give intensely imaginative expression to a 
single emotion cannot be pronounced one of the higher 
efforts of poetical genius ; and though we admit that 
Wordsworth has given unsurpassed expression to the 
sorrow arising in connection with the simple primary 
affections, we have still to ask for proof that he 
deserves a lofty seat among those poetic sons of the 
morning who excel in the far higher office of quicken- 
ing life and increasing joy. 

Estimate as you please, however, the occasional 
imaginative success of Wordsworth, I contend that, 
as a general rule, his imagination fails expressly at 
those points where its interposition is required, and 
that the failure in Vaudracour and Julia, on which 
Mr. Arnold himself lays emphasis, is but a striking 

Wordsworth's Literalism. xlv 

instance of what occurs in a great variety of cases. 
Take Peter Bell, take The Waggoner, nay, take Michael 
and Resolution and Independence, not to mention scores 
of minor poems, I maintain that, in each and all of 
these, imagination fails to give the right, vital unity of 
art. An artist does not produce a picture by merely 
beginning at one line on his right and working round 
to another line on his left. That is a mere strip of 
country transferred to canvas. The true artist puts 
an eye, a soul, into his landscape, whether castellated 
crag, or towered city, or sail on the far horizon ; and 
all his picture centres in that. Wordsworth treats his 
subject topographically. Some incident or series of 
incidents has come within the field of his experience, 
and he chronicles the details, beginning -at the begin- 
ning and going on to the end. Peter Bell comes to the 
river-brink, observes the donkey, notes how its long 
ear rolls round on the pivot of its skull, discovers the 
corpse in the water, mounts the ass, rides to the hut of 
the drowned man, and so forth ; the waggoner drives 
his team in the stormy night, has one or two mildly 
interesting adventures, takes a little too much at the 
public-house, is dismissed by his master, &c., &c. 
Michael is an industrious, upright peasant ; his only 
son, who has always been dutiful, goes to the great 
town and becomes bad; and his father thinks of him 
with inexpressible sadness as he tries in vain to take 
interest in the simple industries they used to transact 
together. The poet sees the leech-gatherer at his work 
and asks him to tell his story ; the leech-gatherer 

xlvi Poetry. 

complies, but the poet has gone off in melancholy 
musings about "mighty poets in their misery dead," 
and asks the leech-gatherer to go over it all again, 
which the good soul does ; and the poet then tells it 
to the reader ; and it turns out to be no great story 
after all, though illustrating the resolution and inde- 
pendence of leech-gathering peasants. This, I say, is 
Wordsworth's manner, and it is not the manner of 
great imaginative poets. 

These poems, however, show Wordsworth at his 
best, or nearly at his best; but it is fair that we 
should take him also, if in one sample only, at his 
worst. In Ellen Irwin, or the Braes of Kirtle, he dis- 
plays a degree of imaginative torpor distinctly beyond 
that which appals Mr. Arnold in Vaudracour and 
Julia. He had a fine subject to deal with, and the 
old minstrel who treated it before him had shown him 
how it could be imaginatively treated. Love, death, 
woman sacrificing herself to save her lover, and the 
fiery vengeance of the lover overtaking the man to 
whom her death was due such was the subject. If 
that does not awaken imagination, what will? It 
awakened the imagination of the old minstrel so effec- 
tually that it is almost impossible not to feel that 
he must himself have been a chief actor in this truly 
dramatic lyric. 

O that I were where Helen lies, 

Night and day on me she cries, 

that I were where Helen lies, 

On fair Kirkconnell Lee ! 

Ellen Irwin. xlvii 

Is that not the very wail of love in agony ? And then 
the vengeance 

I hacked him in pieces sma'. 

You see that he could have torn the slayer of his 
love with his teeth like a tiger. That is imaginative 

Read now the' unparalleled production in which 
Wordsworth, as I have no doubt, believed himself to 
have improved upon the rugged work of the old 
" maker," and shown him how it ought to have been 
done. With exemplary, gin-horse industry, he begins, 
more suo, at the beginning, and plods on to the end, 
in tiresome, soporific detail. The name of the one 
lover was Bruce, the name of the other was Gordon ; 
the one did this, the other did that, &c., &c. So mor- 
tally unimaginative is the work, that it becomes untrue 
even as a transcript of possible fact. One of the 
lovers I forget whether it was Bruce or Gordon, and 
don't care " launched a deadly javelin " at the breast 
of the other ; whereupon 

Fair Ellen saw it when it oame, 
And stepping forth to meet the same, 
Did with her body cover 
The youth, her chosen lover. 

Consider that. The writer has evidently no vision 
of what occurred, and writes what, even in prose, 
would be untrue. Had Ellen " stepped forth to meet 
the same," the javelin must have reached its goal in 
her lover's heart before she had completed her arrange- 
ments. Even a schoolboy, or the bellman, would have 

xlviii Poetry, 

said " springing upward like a flame," or something 
like that. Hear Wordsworth on the passion of 
the lovers. 

For it may be proclaimed with truth, 

If Brace hath loved sincerely, 

That Gordon loves as dearly." 

" It may be proclaimed with truth," Wordsworth, 
his mark ! Such phrases, even in prose, denote spraw- 
ling, nerveless, unimaginative composition. They in- 
dicate in Wordsworth an occasional union of lethargic 
cerebration with perpetual self-consciousness not ex- 
hibited, I think, by any other poet who has got a 
place, as Wordsworth has after all rightfully done, 
among the true poets of the world. Mr. Arnold 
speaks of the "new and sacred energy" of Words- 
worth's inspired moments. But how frequently is 
this sacred energy absent exactly at the moment when 
it is wanted ! That single word " machine," applied, 
in the very climax of the poem, to his "perfect woman 
nobly planned," is a touch of the dead hand that 
almost makes us think of a woman at Madame 

So much for Wordsworth's habitual method of 
treating his subjects. A few words must be said on 
the nature of those subjects. His practice is to write 
poems on the simplest incidents of everyday expe- 
rience. He teases his little boy of five years to tell 
him whether he likes best to be " on Kilve's smooth 
shore by the green sea, or here at Liswyn farm." 
The child says carelessly that he would rather be at 

Wordsworth's Commonplace. xlix 

Kilve than where he is, but does not know why. 
Five times does the father press the boy to " tell him 
why." At last the little fellow, happening to glance 
up at the vane on the house-top, and hoping to silence 
the old fidget, says that there was no weathercock at 
Kilve and that was " the reason why." On this 
incident we have fifteen stanzas, the fifteenth being as 
follows : 

dearest, dearest Boy ! my heart 
For better lore would seldom yearn, 

Could I but teach the hundredth part 
Of what from thee I learn. 

I suppose a true Wordsworthian would find no end 
of lessons in all this ; to the practical mind it seems 
to illustrate no truth more profound than that, if you 
tease a child with twaddle, he will say anything that 
comes uppermost to stay the infliction. The poet sees 
old Simon Lee at work on the root of an old tree, and 
helps him to get over a difficulty. The man thanks 
him. The incident suggests nearly a hundred lines, 
the whole history of Simon being sketched, and the 
sorrow of bleak age shown stealing, as is usual with 
melancholy Wordsworth, over the brightness of youth 
and the power of manhood. It is an eminently 
characteristic and quietly beautiful piece, the last two 
of its double stanzas being these : 

" You're overtasked, good Simon Lee, 

Give me your tool," to him I said ; 
And at the word right gladly he 
Eeceived my proffered aid. 


I struck, and with a single blow 

The tangled root I severed, 
At which the poor old man so long 

And vainly had endeavoured. 

The tears into his eyes were brought, 

And thanks and praises seemed to run 
So fast out of his heart, I thought 

They never would have done. 
I've heard of hearts unkind, kind deeds 

With coldness still returning ; 
Alas ! the gratitude of men 

Hath oftener left me mourning. 

Such, incidents occur to every one. The village 
pastor could fill volumes with them. Wordsworth 
dwells longer upon them than other people, and his 
persistent practice of poetical composition and undis- 
puted genius enabled him to detail them with a more 
felicitous simplicity than commonplace people could 
attain ; but he rarely gives them a diamond point of 
thought, or fuses them in the fire of his imaginative 
glance. His reflections are those which occur natur- 
ally to every humane man. It can hardly be doubted 
that he carried too far the principle of trusting for his 
subjects to the trivialities of everyday experience. 
The routine pacing of the sunbeam in serene weather 
along the dial-plate will not ordinarily yield signs and 
wonders, either of religion or of poetry. 

A large proportion of Wordsworth's existence was 
passed in what may be described as a state of refined 
spiritual dreaminess, bordering on lethargy. A friend 
rebukes him for sitting on a grey stone and musing 
half a day. He writes a poem by way of answer, and 

Wordsworth's Half-truths. li 

urges that " we can feed this mind of ours in a wise 
passiveness." But the passive mood was with him 
too frequent, and the thoughts that loomed on him 
through the haze, as he " dreamed his time away," 1 
were apt to he only half true. 

One impulse from a vernal wood 

May teach you more of man, 
Of moral evil and of good, 

Than all the sages can. 

If so, the sages teach precious little. He made 
more of the teaching of nature than was fit ; man 
learns from man. 

Books ! 'tis a dull and endless strife ; 

Come, hear the woodland linnet, 
How sweet his music ! on my life 

There's more of wisdom in it. 

No, there is not. Milton had a very different notion 
of books. Wordsworth's highest excellence, as well 
as his deepest defects, have connection with this 
passive habit of mind. In his musing moods he occa- 
sionally strikes chords that vibrate to no hand so finely 
as to his. 

If thou be one whose heart the holy forms 

Of young imagination have kept pure, 

Stranger ! henceforth be warned ; and know that pride, 

Howe'er disguised in its own majesty, 

Is littleness ; that he who feels contempt 

For any living thing, hath faculties 

Which he has never used ; that thought with him 

Is in its infancy. The man whose eye 

Is ever on himself doth look on one, 

The least of Nature's works, one who might move 

The wise man to that scorn which Wisdom holds 

Unlawful, ever. O be wiser, thou ! 


Hi Poetry. 

Instructed that true knowledge leads to love, 
True dignity abides with him alone 
Who, in the silent hour of inward thought, 
Can still suspect, and still revere himself, 
In lowliness of heart. 

Even in these noble lines there is a trace of un- 
Teality. It is not true that we ought to feel con- 
tempt for no living thing. Wordsworth himself else- 
where expresses a just and manly contempt for the 
sordid worldling who had given away his heart. The 
following is better, shows Wordsworth, in fact, to 

my thinking, at his best : 

There lives 
A Judge 

In whose all-seeing eye a noble aim 

Faithfully kept is as a noble deed 

In whose pure sight all virtue doth succeed. 

Nothing in religious poetry could be more majestically 
noble than that. I do not remember meeting the 
same thought in any other author. It is one of those 
thoughts which, when memorably expressed, form the 
best boon a poet bestows upon his race, and are in 
very truth words of God to stay the soul in trouble. 
But this, as I said before, is what Mr. Arnold thinks 
the weak vein in the poet ; and he does not include 
the sonnet in which these lines occur amongst his 
selections. I entirely agree with Mr. Arnold that 
Wordsworth was a true and even a great poet ; funda- 
mentally healthy and wise ; with a passion for nature 
that made him a force among his countr} 7 men : but 
I differ with him sharply when he lifts Wordsworth 

Burns. liii 

above the head of Hugo and of Schiller, and of all 
those poets that appeared in Britain between the 
death of Milton and the birth of Queen Victoria. 
Of two of these last I shall more particularly, though 
briefly, speak ; and first of Robert Burns. 

No man presents poetical genius or inspiration as a 
glow more peremptorily than Burns. Imagination is 
his natural mood, his intellect works by vision, his 
soul is an eye. And the peculiar poetic mania of 
seeing all things alive was eminently his. This is the 
greatest imaginative gift, and distinguishes the maker ; 
but the gift of penetrating sympathy, whereby the poet 
gets into the heart of everything that lives, or that he 
dowers with life, belonged also in the rarest perfection 
to Burns. Compared with his, the poetical genius of 
Wordsworth is lax, is slow. 

Take a piece which, though characteristic of Burns, 
is unmistakably one of his minor efforts, The Two, 
Dogs. He had noticed his own sheep-dog, or " collie," 
gambolling with a gentleman's Newfoundland, and it 
occurred to him that a conversation between the two 
might furnish the " something serious " which, his pub- 
lisher told him, would be a desirable feature in his first 
volume. He sees the dogs in manner as they lived, 
and he makes us see them. The "locked, letter'd 
braw brass collar " of the one, the glossy black coat, 
white breast, curling tail, and honest face of the other, 
mark them out in all the distinctness of canine rank 
and canine individuality. Burns gets at once into 
their hearts and enjoys their sport. 

e~ 2 

liv Poetry. 

Nae doubt but they were fain o' ither, 
An' unco pack an thick thegither ; 
Wi' social nose whyles snuff'd an' snowkifc 
Whyles mice an' moudieworts * they howkit ; 
Whyles scour'd awa' in lang excursion, 
And worry'd ither in diversion. 

That is as vivid as painting, and painting could not 
give the movement of the dogs. Tired at length of 
play, they sit down and talk of mankind. Their 
remarks are redolent of satire, and the raciest pith 
and sense, lit up here and there by vignette pictures 
of peasant life, not to be surpassed in graphic felicity 
and genial warmth. But observe how thoroughly 
he enters into the hearts of the dogs ! how he un- 
derstands the sentiments of dog-land, and writes like 
a very dog ! Consider this, on a functionary whose 
character must be a subject of interest in every kennel. 

Our whipper-in, wee, blastit wonner, 
Poor worthless elf, it eats a dinner, 
Better than ony tenant man. 

If a dog could speak, would he not say just that 
about the whipper-in? The collie, for his part, 
describes the life of the poor, assuring his friend 
that, though hard, it has its alleviations. There are 
the high-tides of Hallow-mass and New Year's Day, 
when the frost-winds are barred out, and the " ingle " 
burns bright. 

The cantie auld folks crackin' crouse, 
The young anes rantin' through the house, 
My heart has been sae fain to see them, 
That I for joy hae barkit wi' them. 

* Moles. 

Burns' 's Sympathy. Iv 

The Ettrick Shepherd said that he had seen this 
description verified a hundred times to the letter. It 
is true to the kind heart of Burns that he should have 
embraced the old within the circle of household joyful- 
ness. Age in Wordsworth is despondent, heavy-laden, 
apathetic ; not in Burns. And the loyal dependent 
of man is accepted into the human circle, and 
heightens the merriment by his genial bark. Very 
precious in its moral quality is the regard that Burns 
has for the lower creatures. Often it is simply the 
tenderness that shrinks from the idea of their pain, 
his unaffected dislike of the huntsman's art evinc- 
ing extraordinary fineness and gentleness of nature in 
a peasant. But often, also, it is a feeling of mingled 
justice and mercy with reference to the services they 
render man, and of sympathetic appreciation of their 
companionship. His New Year Morning Salutation 
of the old farmer to his old mare has a poetry 
in it as much deeper than the poetry of feudal knight- 
hood, as the poetry of industry and home is deeper 
than the poetry of strife. 

Though now thou's dowie, stiff, an' crazy, , 
An' thy auld hide's as white's a daisy, 
I've seen thee dappl't,' sleek, and glaizie, 
A bonnie grey. 

With manly pride and beautiful tenderness, he 
recalls the day when the dappled mare bore home his 
bride, and recounts her triumphs on the road and in the 
furrow. And now, when they both are old, his trusty 
servant will find that she has a friend. 

Ivi Poetry. 

We've worn to crazy years thegither ; 
We'll toyte about wi' ane anither ; 
Wi' tentie care I'll flit thy tether, 
To some hain'd * rig. 

Mr. Arnold fully acknowledges the necessity, to the 
appreciation of Burns, of having some acquaintance 
with Scotch ; and it is thoroughly genial in him to say 
that the language of Burns deserves study from culti- 
vated Englishmen as the language of Chaucer deserves 
it : such a phrase as " we'll toyte about wi' ane 
anither " is untranslatable the marvellous onomato- 
poetic accuracy of the word which describes the 
tottering motion of an old man and an old horse 
belongs to the original inseparably. "Tottering" is 
too hard expresses too much of creaky brokenness 
the " toy ting " has something in it of the pleasant 
feebleness of second childhood in a sunny field. And 
how delicate is the " tentie care ! *" 

Of The Jolly Beggars Mr. Arnold speaks in terms of 
admiration that may well satisfy the most enthusiastic 
reader of Burns. It is in his eyes a "puissant and 
splendid production," " a superb poetic success," 
displaying " a breadth, truth, and power which make 
the famous scene in Auerbach's Cellar, of Goethe's 
Faust, seem artificial and tame beside it, and which 
are only matched by Shakespeare and Aristophanes." 
For badness and for goodness the piece is entirely true 
to Burns here he stands, the whole man, as we have 
Wordsworth in Peter Bell and Michael. The coarse- 

* Saved ; kept in reserve. 

The Jolly Beggars. Ivii 

ness which mars Burns, the coarseness which was a. 
broadly-marked, undeniable characteristic of the 
Scotland mirrored in his poetry, is here at its worst. 
It is not so bad as the coarseness of Chaucer ; it is 
never dwelt on, as the subject and interest of the 
description, as in tales which could be mentioned of 
Chaucer's; it is put in, with flying, forceful touch, 
because it is there, a part of the visioned fact into 
which the eye of the poet is glaring, necessary if we 
must have utter veracity, however alien to ideal 
beauty : but it is lamentable, nevertheless. 

If the stains on Burns's genius, however, are con- 
spicuous in this poem, they do not quench its general 
blaze of power and brilliance. It displays in its ut- 
most intensity and comprehensiveness that sympathy 
with mankind, which was his master-passion, and 
that creative gift of imagination by which he gave 
form and life. The gambolling of dogs and the 
fortunes of old mares interested him, but the merry- 
makings of his fellow-men had for him an irresistible 
and supreme fascination. Accordingly he dived, one 
night, with a brace of trusty companions, into a 
public-house in Mauchline of the lowest description, 
the resort of strolling tinkers, fiddlers, and other vag- 
rants. What he witnessed forms the subject-matter 
of this poem ; and he has made out of it perhaps 
the most exultant demonstration of the strength of 
life, and of the power of laughter to rise victorious 
over hardship and penury, to be found in any litera- 
ture. Not one circumstance of the squalor and 

Iviii Poetry. 

looped and windowed raggedness of these waifs and 
strays of human kind is disguised, and yet they are 
uproariously happy. There is no didacticism in the 
poem, yet it is a deep chapter in the philosophy of life. 
It shows nature's reserve power her capacity, when 
she seems driven to extremity, to make life still 

We should note, as significant in many ways, that 
the poor vagrants have not a word to say against their 
social superiors. Of the democratic exasperation and 
teeth-gnashing, of which we have had so much since 
the French Kevolution, there is not a forecast. Nor, 
though we have throughout a humourous contempt for 
the respectabilities, is there any suggestion of sym- 
pathy with mean thieving or swindling. " Braw John 
Highlandman," though he holds the Lowland laws in 
scorn, " is faithful to his clan." The tinker is proud 
of his trade, the fiddler pays for his cheer " at kirns 
and weddings " with music. The battered old soldier, 
minus an arm and a leg, is a hero every inch, one with 
whom Homer would have hobnobbed. He tells you 
where he got his wounds, one, for example, "in a 
trench, when welcoming the French." That epithet 
" welcoming " is perfection. All the nobleness of 
chivalry is in it, the frank valour of the soldier who 
bears no grudge against a noble foe, and the reckless 
joy of battle. Then, with what brilliant lyrical 
touches lyrical in their brevity and brightness, epic 
in their decisive selection of the right points does old 
Wooden-leg glance along the wars of Great Britain in 

Old Wooden-leg. lix 

liis time ! The song is worthy of any war-poet from 
Tyrtasus to Beranger, and yet it is not in the least out 
of keeping with the character of the begging soldier. 

My 'prenticeship I past where my leader breath'd his last, 
When the bloody die was cast on the heights of Abram ; 

I serv'd out my trade when the gallant game was play'd 
And the Moro low was laid at the sound of the drum. 

I lastly was with Curtis, among the floating batteries, 
And there I left for witness an arm and a limb ; 

Yet let my country need me, with Elliot to head me, 
I'd clatter on my stumps at the sound of a drum. 

That belongs to the perennial in poetry. Out of 
the dingy atmosphere of a tavern revel the old soldier 
rises into the changeless blue of universal human 

Mr. Arnold is severe upon Scottish life. " Burns's 
world of Scotch drink, Scotch religion, and Scotch 
manners, is often a harsh, a sordid, a repulsive world." 
Not " sordid," Mr. Arnold peremptorily not sordid. 
A world of hard labour, of stern thrift, not of sordid- 
ness ; the old farmer has had a hard life of it, but he 
can spare a " hain'd rig " for his old mare yet, though 
she will never do him another stroke of work. A rude 
coarse world in many of its aspects, but without any 
of those pestilential taints that kill or paralyse the 
soul ; a world in which the peasant can respect his 
pastor, though he never fancies him a priest or hesi- 
tates to hold his own against him in argument ; in 
which the farmer's cottage is his castle ; in which there 
is severe, but not stunting or depressing labour, hard 

l x Poetry. 

fare, but not the pinch of hunger; and the heath-clad 
or grass-clad breast of mother earth to rest on, the 
flashing sea to look at, the unpolluted air to breathe, 
the wheeling plover-flight to watch in the sky and the 
birch and hawthorn, to make love under, by the river 
side. Certain it is that Scottish national feeling did 
not bar the old soldier of Burns from taking the world- 
historical and British view of events. Every conflict 
he celebrates is English. I take leave to add that the 
imperial patriotism of Burns, Campbell, Scott, might 
rebuke that provincial patriotism which makes it so 
difficult to find in a poem by an English writer one 
word of cordial reference either to Ireland or to Scot- 
land. Tennyson has an open heart for all English 
interests and parties, but at these, with freezing pre- 
cision, he draws the line. In celebrating the deliver- 
ance by the Highlanders of the besieged remnant in 
Lucknow Eesidency, he makes his verse meaningless 
by speaking of the "pibroch of Europe," rather than 
name the land of Carlyle, Scott, and Burns. 

Nor is it too daring to hold that Burns's love for 
Scotland did not pervert but ennoble his patriotism in 
general. It is because he wrote Bruce' s Address to his 
Soldiers before the Battle of Bannockbwrn that he 
could sing with right enthusiasm of the Heights of 
Abram and the Storm of the Moro, of Wolfe at 
Quebec and Elliot at Gibraltar. Mr. Arnold would 
have had a still deeper and truer appreciation of Burns, 
if he had been as able as Carlyle to understand and 
sympathise with his Scottish feeling. No one under- 

Burns 's Pride. Ixi 

standing the part played by religion in the history of 
Scotland could think that Burns, for all his wild words 
of satire and his fiery scorn for hypocrisy, was an ironical 
free-thinker of the knowing modern type " whistle 
o'er the lave o't " as Mr. Arnold suggests : nor, if he 
had known what a thing is Scotch pride, in struggle 
with the res angusta domi, could he have imagined 
that it was from the outworks, and not from the 
central fastness and heart's heart of Burns, that A 
man's a man for a 1 that proceeded. In his boyhood, 
under his father's roof, Burns had known the struggle 
with straitened circumstances, and with all the strength 
of his soul had longed for the freedom and enlarge- 
ment of an " honest independence." Throughout his life 
he had yearned for this, striven for it, keeping only apart 
from it, as holier than it, the sacred and thrilling joy 
of his poetry. And now, at thirty-six, when he knows 
that in the battle of life he has been what the world 
calls beaten that he has lived and will die a poor 
man he stands forth and sings this solemn psalm, in- 
stinct with the imperishable life of universal truth. 

Is there, for honest poverty, 

That hangs his head and a' that, 
The coward slave we pass him by, 

We dare be poor for a' that. 
For a' that, and a' that, 

Our toils obscure and a' that ; 
The rank is but the guinea's stamp, 

The man's the gowd for a' that. 

But in Burns, no more than in his old soldier, is 
there any of the sava indignatio that tore the heart 
of Swift any furious grudge against society any pes~ 
simistic bitterness or despair of mankind. 

Ixii Poetry. 

Then let us pray that come it may 

As come it will for a' that 
That sense and worth, o'er a' the earth, 

May bear the gree and a' that ; 
For a' that, and a' that, 

It's comin' yet for a' that, 
That man to man, the warld o'er, 

Shall brithers be for a' that. 

It was like Burns to speak slightingly of this mighty 
lyric when sending it to the unsouled clay of George 
Thomson. " It was little," says Lockbart, " in 
Burns's character to let his feelings on certain subjects 

In no respect do the poems of Wordsworth more 
strongly contrast with those of Burns than in what I 
would call, with strict meaning, historical value. The 
first book of Homer's Iliad makes the life of old heroic 
Greece visible to us. We see it and know it in a sense 
in which no mere statistical information could place it 
before us. In this sense Burns is the Scottish historian 
of his day and generation. His Tarn o'Shanter, his 
Duncan Gray, his Doctor Hornbook, his lads and 
lasses frolicking at Halloween, his peasant opening the 
Bible and reverently reading it to his household in the 
evening, are as true to the Ayrshire of his time as the 
weeping Achilles and his divine mother, the mourning 
Priam and his dead Hector, are to that old Homeric 
world ; and the same ring and shout of human laughter 
makes ancient and modern kin, when the preternatural 
portent of Halloween turns out to be " grumphy, asteer 
that night," and when Ajax, clearing from mouth and 
nostril the mud into which he had flopped, complains 
that he had been tripped up in the race by Pallas, and 

The Daisy. Ixiil 

the surrounding Achaians " laugh sweetly " at the 
notion. Now Wordsworth's poems, as compared with 
those of Keats and Shelley, are racy of the soil. There 
is a good deal of Cumberland in them. But, compared 
with those of Burns, they are outside Cumberland life. 
They render its misty melancholy, but of its mirth 
they give hardly the faintest echo. Only once in The 
Waggoner do we hear much of dancing. The humour 
of the people, the movement of their life, their sports, 
their passionate loving, all which we must suppose 
them to have had, are absent. There is in fact nothing 
in English poetry that will take rank with the vital 
and vivid presentation of Scottish life and manners in 
the poems of Burns. The world has enjoyed it, not 
because it is Scotch, but because it is human. 

Such pieces as the address to the Daisy and the 
address to the Mouse are too familiar to require more 
than mention. Their tenderness, their pathos, their 
aptness of allusion to human destinies, are universally 
felt. In the Daisy there are some lines so delicately 
fanciful that they form an enchanting variation on the 
strong vehemence of the poet's general mood. His 
plough had gone harshly over the " crimson- tipped 
flower." Burns touches on the circumstance. 

Alas ! it's no thy neebor sweet, 
The bonnie lark, companion meet, 
Bending thee 'mang the dewy weet, 

Wi' speckled breast, 
When upward-springing, blithe, to greet 

The purpling East. 

If Burns had never written another verse but that, 

Ixiv Poetry. 

we should have known that he had a poetic nature. 
There is something feminine in it, so there is in all 
gently fanciful poetry : doubtless the melody and magic 
of poetry have something to do with the blending 
together of the finest elements distinctive of man and 
the finest elements distinctive of woman, breeze and 
stream co-operating in the modulated ripple. Between 
Milton and Burns you will not meet with a stanza like 
this. To Dryden, to Pope, to Cowper even, it would 
have seemed silly. It is hardly imaginative, but it is 
fancy's finest gold. 

More imaginative, more earnest, is the address to 
the Mouse. The daisy's fate does not really stir the 
depths of any man's heart. Its woes are of the fancy. 
But a mouse feels as well as a man, and no one knew 
that better than Burns. He looks down with intensest 
sympathy on the sleek, soft, glittering-eyed little 
wonder, whose " wee bit housie " he has laid in ruins. 
"Oh, what a panic's in thy breastie ! " The strong 
man's heart beats in the tiny, panting breast. 

I can conceive nothing more finely perfect than the 
lines to the mouse ; but if I were asked which of his 
poems conveys to me the most forcible impression of 
his power, not in its tenderness, but in its strength, I 
should name the lines to an unmentionable phenomenon 
a creeping thing detested by saint and sinner seen 
on a lady's bonnet in church. If you want to have 
Burns in the very tempest of his strength in his ve- 
hemence, his fervent heat the Thor knuckles white as 
his hammer smites the rock read this unique and tre- 

Burns at His Strongest. Ixv 

mendous poem. We have seen that he could get into 
the hearts of dogs and mice ; but now he goes lower in 
creation, and, in all the rapture of poetic vision, enters 
the soul of this crawling beast. As a moralist, as 
a satirist, as a humourist, Burns here culminates. 
There is the grandest world-irony in the lines, a 
laugh deep, sardonic, shaking the man's whole frame. 
If Bottom and Dogberry and Malvolio had presented 
themselves in one incomparable moment to the mind 
of Shakespeare, he would have felt as Burns felt while 
watching the entomological specimen on the ladv r 's 
bonnet. The impudence that protects the complacent 
creature, as it " strunts rarely o'er gauze and lace " 
the semi-starvation that is the lightly borne penalty 
of beggarly pride, " dining sparely " in its exalted sta- 
tion these come out in the first stanza. Then, with 
that inquisitiveness of prying imagination which led 
him into Poosy Nancy's tavern when the revel was in 
full scream, the poet dives into the Tartarean deeps 
of entomological existence. Returning to the upper 
air, he once more concentrates his attention on the 
devious, yet mounting, course of the specimen in view. 
For a moment it disappears under the ribbons. 

Now haud you there, ye're out o' sight, 
Below the fatt'rils snug and tight ! 

Not likely ! The aspiring creature, proudly re-emer- 
gent, mounts and mounts, until it beams forth on 

The very tapmost, tow'ring height 

O' Miss's bonnet. 

Two verses of admirably arch and pungent humour 

Ixvi Poetry. 

follow, and then, in two more, about " winks and 
finger-ends" that are taking notice, and the beneficent 
gift of seeing ourselves as others see us, this master- 
piece ends. 

O Jenny, dinna toss your head, 

Or set your beauties all abread ; 

Ye little ken what cursed speed 
The blastie's makin*. 

Thae winks and finger-ends, I dread, 
Are notice takin'. 

wad some Power the giftie gie us 

To see oursels as ithers see us ! 

It wad frae mony a blunder free us, 

An' foolish notion ; 
What airs in dress and gait wad lae' us, 

And e'en devotion ! 

Consider the range of poetic faculty between the 
rugged strength of these verses and the delicate beauty 
and tenderness of the following : 

The hoary cliffs are crown'd wi' flowers, 
White o'er the linns the burnie pours, 
And rising weets wi' misty showers 
The birks of Aberfeldy ; 

Let fortune's gifts at random flee, 
They ne'er shall draw a wish frae me, 
Supremely blest wi' love an' thee, 
In the birks of Aberfeldy. 

Lyrical poetry is the essential poetry, the poetry of 
life in its highest moments, the poetry of spring and of 
passion. Its distinctive note is love ; and it will not 
be disputed that in the songs and lyrical ballads of 
Burns is to be found as noble an expression of love 
as exists in language. His love-lyrics have the 

Burns's Love-songs. Ixvii 

play and colour of the fountain and the heat of the 
furnace. Mr. Arnold signalises the nice perfection of 
Tarn Glen; but surely it is only the light touch and 
sportive mood of Burns that we have in Tarn Glen. 
For anything to equal the best love-songs of Burns, we 
must step beyond the English language, and listen to 
Clarchen's song in Egmont, or Amalia's in The Robbers. 
The genius of English, stately, proud, and cold, is not 
so favourable to lyric poetry as the German of Goethe 
and Schiller, or the Scotch of Burns. If Burns is 
one of the greatest love-poets of the world, Words- 
worth can hardly be called a love-poet at all. Of 
youth-and-maiden rapture there is, in his poems, 
almost no sympathetic expression. 

We have, indeed, the stateliness of his verse to make 
some amends. I would grant that, in style, he has the 
advantage of Burns. Style is a high quality, and, if 
other things are equal, the poet whose work has most 
style is the better poet. But style is, perhaps, irrecon- 
cilable with the wild and witching sweetness of the 
Doric lyre. Style seems also to involve some element 
which, if not irreconcilable with superlative genius, is 
yet not quite congenial to it. The greatest poets of all, 
though they can occasionally be stylists, are by pre- 
ference and on the whole humourists. Dante, Milton, 
Schiller, are stylists, not humourists ; Homer, Shake- 
speare, Goethe, are humourists rather than stylists. 
We praise the stylists, and ought to read them. We 
cannot help reading the humourists. 

It seems almost a shame, however, to pit Words- 

Ixviii Poetry. 

worth against a poet whom he so deeply valued, so 
generously recognised. He is always at his best in 
writing about Burns, and never has the greatness of 
Burns been more correctly defined than in the follow- 
ing monumental stanza : 

Through busiest street and loneliest glen 

Are felt the flashes of his pen ; 

He rules 'mid winter's snows, and when 

Bees fill their hives ; 
Deep in the general heart of men 

His power survives. 

No poet is more expressly the poet of a class a 
refined, a superior class, if you will, but a strictly 
limited one a class confined hitherto, Mr. Arnold 
tells us, to England than Wordsworth. No poet in 
all the starry throng has struck more decisively those 
perennial chords in the human heart to which all 
hearts vibrate than Burns. 

And Byron ? Can we, unless blinded by early 
associations or by that insular prejudice which was 
personified and has been canonised in Dr. Johnson, 
maintain against Europe that the author of Childe 
Harold and Don Juan was an inferior poet to the 
author of The Excursion ? I am prepared to en- 
dorse a very dark indictment against Byron, both 
as a man and as a poet. If we exempt the vices 
of cruelty and dishonesty, I see not what could 
have been more immoral than his life ; and I cannot, 
after most carefully considering the point, doubt that, 
as an artist, he, who had been gifted by nature so 
bounteously, who was in possession of so many of 

Byron. Ixix 

the true spells of poetic art, deliberately stained and 
defiled his work in order that it might be bought, 
anointing it with honey of hell in order that the base 
sweetness might attract the flies of Beelzebub. I 
admit also that, apart from the artistically illegitimate 
attractions of licentiousness in his poems, we find in 
them occasionally an utter prosiness which it is hard 
to explain. Byron's dead bits are palpably, offensively 
dead, and they are apt to occur in his fine work. The 
" there let him lay," at the end of one of the stanzas 
of the address to the ocean at the end of Childe 
Harold, is unsurpassable both in vulgarity and in 


A king sat on the rocky brow 

That looks o'er sea-born Salamis ; 
And ships, by thousands, lay below, 

And men in nations ; all were his ! 
He counted them at break of day 
And when the sun set where were they ? 

That is, to my thinking, as noble poetry, of the 
lyrical-descriptive kind, as can be conceived. The 
words that succeed 

And where are they ? 

are sheer fatuity. The first question calls up a crowd 
of ideas, all sublime ; the second clashes with the first, 
or blends with it, and both become nonsense. Once 
more, I do not make much of the philosophy or the 
politics of Byron. The profundities and audacities of 
speculation in Cam are in fact the commonplaces, the 
mere chips and sweepings, of the schools of theological 
and philosophical controversy. All that vapouring 


Ixx Poetry. 

against kings and priests that swaggering defiance 
of the conventional ordinances of society depended 
on mere ignorance as to the part really played by 
Idngs and priests in human history, and was put to 
flight by the first dawning rays of Carlyle's genial 
sagacity and historical instinct. 

Enough ; I am tempted by no enthusiasm to over- 
rate the power of Byron ; but it seems to me almost 
incredible that Mr. Arnold should set Wordsworth 
above him. Goethe, at the time when Byron attained 
his reputation, was greater as a critic than as a poet, 
and he deliberately pronounced Byron's genius incom- 
mensurable. Scott accounted for his own abandon- 
ment of poetry in three words, "Byron beat me." 
Por Shelley Byron was "the Pythian of his age," 
and Wilson, who himself had seemed at one moment 
to be no unlikely candidate for the poetical crown, was 
satisfied with the honour of strewing flowers in Byron's 
path. We mark the noble poet, expelled from England , 
lighting up Europe with the splendour of his genius, 
which runs like liquid fire along the course of the Rhine, 
and glitters among the Alpine summits. He had an eye 
that could pierce to nature's most exquisite loveliness, 
hut it was seldom his mood to watch the glancing of 
the silver streamlet, like " the shy chamois' eye," or to 
mark the delicate fluttering of daffodils. He loved to 
look on nature in her moments of sublimity and of 
terror, and at such moments he flung the life of his 
creative imagination into the glory and the gloom. 
He is the fellow of the mountains in their Titan 

Byron's Imagination. Ixxi 

mirth, and laughs with them amid the rattling 
thunderbolts and the hissing rain. 

The sky is changed ! and such a change 1 Oh night, 
And storm, and darkness, ye are wondrous strong, 

Yet lovely in your strength, as is the light 
Of a dark eye in woman ! Far along, 

From peak to peak, the rattling crags among, 

Leaps the live thunder ! Not from one lone cloud, 

But every mountain now hath found a tongue, 
And Jura answers, through her misty shroud, 
Back to the joyous Alps, who call to her aloud. 

* * * * * 

And this is in the night : most glorious night ! 

Thou wert not made for slumber ! let me be 
A sharer in thy fierce and far delight, 

A portion of the tempest and of thee ! 
How the lit lake shines, a phosphoric sea, 

And the big rain comes dancing to the earth I 
And now again 'tis black, and now, the glee 

Of the loud hills shakes with its mountain -mirth, 

As if they did rejoice o'er a young earthquake's birth. 

Has Wordsworth written anything like that ? Can 
we wonder that Europe thrilled to touches like these, 
while it remained indifferent to poetical admonitions 
addressed to robins for killing butterflies ? Here is a 
personification of battle a vision of the thing alive 
executed while we can still trace the 'prentice hand in 
Byron's manner. 

Death rides upon the sulphury Siroc, 

Bed Battle stamps his foot, and nations feel the shock. 

* * * * * 

Lo 1 where the Giant on the mountain stands, 
His blood-red tresses deep'ning in the sun, 

With death-shot glowing in his fiery hands, 
And eye that scorcheth all it glares upon ; 

Ixxii Poetry. 

Restless it rolls, now fixed, and now anon 

Flashing afar, and at his iron feet 
Destruction cowers, to mark what deeds are done. 

Why should I refer to a host of such passages as 
that on the eve of Waterloo, that on the dying 
gladiator, or to what, though faulty here and there, 
is a magnificent poem, The Isles of Greece ? A genera- 
tion or two ago, these were recognised, and when the 
present reaction from the past over-praise of Byron 
shall have spent its force, they will again be recog- 
nised as supreme as magnificent. 

But critics have not given due consideration to that 
part of Byron's performance in which he had begun to 
divest himself of his affectations, to fling aside the stage 
dress of misanthropy and self-condolence which had 
so impressed the shilling gallery, and to let his native 
shrewdness and genuine sympathy have full play. 
Those cantos of Don Juan which lead up to and de- 
scribe the siege of Ismail show Byron at his best ; and 
their quality is high indeed. In no poetry in the 
world not in Shakespeare's or Homer's do we feel 
ourselves more decisively to be among living men, 
among great human interests, and in the hand of a 
poet who understands both the one and the other. 
The portrait of Suwarrow is unrivalled in recent 
English verse. In the best characters in his novels, 
Scott is as graphic and as true ; but Scott never suffi- 
ciently emancipated himself from the sense of what was 
due to style and stateliness in poetry to dare to put such 
work into his Marmion, his Fitzjames, his Bruce, as 

Byron's Suwarrow. Ixxiii 

Byron puts into his Suwarrow. Byron's humour here 
stands him in good stead, no touch indeed save that 
of a humourist could have realised such a personality as 
Suwarrow's ; and yet the grotesque does not in the 
least when the delineation of the leader is viewed in 
connection with the description of the siege as a whole 
compromise the sublime. But Byron apprehends more 
than the personality of Suwarrow. He apprehends, 
with a practical discernment as shrewd as that of 
Frederick of Prussia, the principles on which Suwarrow 
conducts the whole business, the inexorable necessity 
of putting the first before the second the dreary de- 
tails of drill before the pomp and circumstance of 
battle and the electrical effect of an original mind in 
breathing new energy into masses of men. It is not 
too much to say that, in the cantos to which I now 
refer, the principle may be found of all those books in 
which Mr. Carlyle, with so vast an influence upon 
historical literature, has illustrated "the sway of your 
great men o'er little." 

There was not now a luggage-boy but sought 
Danger and spoil with ardour much increased, 
And why ? because a little, odd, old man, 
Stript to his shirt, was come to lead the van. 

Suwarrow did not call upon the army to rush at once 
to the charge; he bethought him of something else 


It is an actual fact, that he, Commander- 
in-chief, in proper person deign'd to drill 
The awkward squad, and could afford to squander 
His time, a corporal's duty to fulfil. 

Ixxiv Poetry. 

He could invent, however, as well as drill, and abandon 
routine at the proper time. 

Also he dress'd up, for the nonce, fascines 
Like men with turbans, scimitars, and dirks, 

And made them charge with bayonets these machines, 
By way of lesson against actual Turks ; 

And when well practised in these mimic scenes, 
He judged them proper to assail the works ; 

At which your wise men sneered in phrases witty : 

He made no answer ; but he took the city. 

Lord Macaulay is much too sweeping in his conclu- 
sion that Byron had no dramatic power. The Corsair, 
Lara, Manfred character, is artificial and shallow, and 
without question reflects the superficial affectations. 
which Byron found so telling upon " folly and green 
minds." But Don Juan has not the smallest resem- 
blance to the stalking, moon-apostrophising Manfred ; 
Lambro is not in the least like Cain ; and if Suwarrow 
shows us anything of Byron, it is his sterling sense and 
command of the science of ruling men. " John John- 
son," who accompanied Juan to the Russian camp, is 
dismissed by Macaulay as "a most signal failure." 
The portrait is sketchy and slight, but this expression 
is extravagantly over-charged. Few as are the touches 
by which Johnson is realised for us, he is a living man, 
with a marked and thoroughly English character. 

Seldom he altered feature, hue or muscle, 
And could be very busy without bustle. 

His meeting with Suwarrow the brief, terse, soldierly 
dialogue that passes between them the frank yet quite 
unsentimental pleading of the rough but kind fellow 

The Siege of Ismail. Ixxv 

for the women are managed with dramatic propriety. 
Suwarrow himself is as dramatically conceived and 
executed as Dalgetty. 

And then the breadth, the occasional sublimity, of 
the purely descriptive passages ! 

Hark ! through the silence of the cold, dull night, 
The hum of armies gathering rank on rank ! 

Lo ! dusky masses steal in dubious sight 
Along the leaguer'd wall and bristling bank 

Of the armed river, while with straggling light 

The stars peep through the vapours dim and dank, 

Which curl in curious wreaths : how soon the smoke 

Of hell shall pall them in a deeper cloak ! 

The night was dark, and the thick mist allowed 
Naught to be seen save the artillery's flame, 

Which arched the horizon like a fiery cloud, 
And in the Danube's waters shone the same 

A mirror'd hell ! the volleying roar and loud 
Long booming of each peal on peal, o'ercame 

The ear far more than thunder; for heaven's flashes 

Spare, or smite rarely man's make millions ashes. 

It is infinitely to be regretted that Don Juan, besides 
being unequal, besides having a great deal in it which, 
whether as wit, as wisdom, or as humour, is wretchedly 
poor stuff, should be brought down to the level of Tom 
Jones , or lower, by its moral taint ; but when we con- 
sider its vast range, its world-like variety, its diction 
and imagery, strong as iron, yet fantastically free as 
the tendrils, the wreaths, the festooned briers and 
roses of a forest lane in June, can we think otherwise 
than with surprise that Mr. Arnold should claim for 

Ixxvi Poetry. 

the poetry of Wordsworth a higher place than for the 
poetry of Byron ? 

In the present volume I try to give some account 
of the genius and productions of Mrs. Browning and 
the Bronte sisters. Mrs. Browning was a poet in 
the simple, yet intense, meaning of the ancient word 
a maker, an imaginative life-giver and artist. Cast- 
ing the mind's eye over what she did and what 
she was, I am strongly moved to claim for her pre- 
cedence of Wordsworth in the procession of English 
poets. In no poet whatever was the lyrical glow more 
authentically fervid and genuine. In another respect 
she is exemplary and classic. The motivation of her 
work is perfect. To the great movements, of thought 
and feeling, as they work themselves into action in the 
world of her time, she gives intense and melodious 
expression. We may figure her as hovering in her 
singing robes, a herald of victory, over the van of the 
spiritual armies that fought the good fight of ad- 
vancing civilisation in two hemispheres, to strike 
down rebellion and slavery in the West, and despotism 
in Italy. Had she done as much for men as she did 
for women had man's work, passion, character been 
delineated on a scale, and with a truth and power, 
correspondent to those with which, in the world of her 
art, she embodied woman's I scarce know what place 
among the throned ones would have been too high for 
her. Woman, as Mrs. Browning shows her, is once 
more the entrancing object that men have loved with- 
out measure and without end, loved as they have 

The Bronte Sisters. Ixxvii 

been loved in return, totally, passionately, with self- 
oblivious pride, 

Such pride as from impetuous love may spring, 
That will not be refused its offering, 

as Shelley worthily sings. But Mrs. Browning is not 
so great in the delineation of men as in that of women. 
With all deductions, I reckon her one of the greatest 
poets of her time. I have, I think, been able to prove 
in the following pages that, in her treatment of the 
theme handled by Milton in Paradise Lost, she has 
succeeded in bringing out the human tenderness of the 
subject, and imparting a realisable personality to 
Adam and Eve, better than the Puritan poet. 

Of Charlotte Bronte and her sisters I have written, 
if with erring appreciation, at least with honest affec- 
tion. One's heart is drawn towards the three un- 
mothered girls who attracted the eyes of all Europe to 
the sequestered parsonage among the Yorkshire moors. 
What, after all, can we say of genius, but that it is in- 
scrutable, heaven-descended, wonder-working ? From 
a headland you look over a wide district, all wrapped 
in somnolent haze, beneath which nothing is distinctly 
visible. Suddenly, through a rift in a cloud, a sun- 
beam glances from the blue and touches one spot. 
There, in piercing brilliance, shine out tower and tree 
and meadow. Then the cloud closes, the ray is with- 
drawn, and once more the impartial haze drops its 
shroud upon the landscape. The genius of the Bronte 
sisters was that single ray, descending upon Yorkshire. 

Ixxviii Poetry. 

So intense was the clearness of it, so fine and sweet 
its beauty, that all England all Europe looked to- 
wards the remote moorland hill in the West Biding, 
with its parsonage and its graves. To that illuminated 
spot, while the ray still falls on it, I invite my readers 
to turn for a little time. 





Pj known as Mrs. Browning, seems almost lite- 
rally to have lisped in numbers. Those for whom it 
was a sacred obligation to guard her fame and enforce 
her wishes manifested the utmost displeasure when 
Mr. Herne Shepherd, that inevitable literary treasure- 
digger, reissued the verses published by her in her 
seventeenth year. It is perhaps not surprising that, 
from the vantage-ground of " higher things " to which 
they have risen, poets should look with disdainful 
irritation on their " dead selves," and ask for them the 
boon of oblivion. But this is a weakness. 

How proud we are 
In daring to look down upon ourselves ! 

says Mrs. Browning in her mature time, intending to 
signify that such pride is not strong, but weak; not 
great, but mean. No fact in a man's history can do 
him injustice, and the nobly proud man wants only 
justice. Nor is the labour of friends, in guarding 
one's reputation from one's dead self, other than. 


Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

labour thrown away. The world inexorably forgets 
everything that is not preserved by its intrinsic merit, 
and inexorably refuses to forget all that really takes its 
ear. The few lines in which, through some felicity of 
inspiration, or some happy chance of association or 
local colour, a boy Cowley, Pope, or Byron, has struck 
a deathless note, are as safe as the strains of their 
ripest genius ; but all the publishers in England 
could not perpetuate a tenth of what they wrote in 

None of Mrs. Browning's earliest verses will, I 
think, form part of the world's current coin of poetry, 
but they are pleasant and instructive as biographical 
records of a poet's youth. They set before us her. 
bright presence as she moved about her father's par- 
sonage, an ardent, affectionate girl, not without her 
meditative hours, her melancholy moment s, but happy 
because full of love and truth and admiration. A long 
poem on Mind, not much superior on the whole to 
College prize-poetry, is interesting as a stammering 
prophecy of that intensely spiritual enthusiasm which 
was to glow like purifying fire in all her works. The 
spirituality of her poems attests their high quality ; for 
spirituality is the characteristic of all supreme art. 
It is because of its spirituality that the sculpture of 
Greece is radiantly pure. It treats the body with a 
sense of beauty so elevating that, as we look, we think 
not of bodily things. The " marble burns, and be- 
comes transparent with very spirit." A thoroughly 
base painter, on the other hand, as Mr. Buskin, from 

Her Affectionate Nature. 

whom these words are quoted, again observes, " puts a 
scent of common flesh about his marble Christ." To 
say that poetry is sensuous that it suggests the body 
rather than the soul, matter rather than spirit, flesh 
rather than immortality is to say that it is bad 
poetry. In Mrs. Browning's, from first to last, the 
spirituality burns with the intensity of flame. 

Another lovely characteristic of Mrs. Browning that 
conies out in these early poems is the strength of her 
domestic affections. She finds in her father her " best 
Maecenas." She writes with tender joy of her studies 
and readings with her brother. She is already on the 
side of progress and freedom, and is the gentlest com- 
forter of the exiled widow, who dies heart-broken 
when her patriot husband is executed. I quote a 
passage from Mind. We may note with interest that 
the poetry freshens and brightens from commonplace 
exactly when the girl-poet turns from her books to her 
personal experiences. 

If human faults to Plato's page belong, 

Not even with Plato willingly go wrong. 

But though the judging page declare it well 

To love Truth better than the lips which tell; 

Yet 'twere an error, with injustice class'd, 

T'adore the former, and neglect the last. 

Oh ! beats there, Heaven ! a heart of human frame, 

Whose pulses throb not at some kindling name ? 

Some sound which brings high musings in its track, 

Or calls perchance the days of childhood back, 

In its dear echo, when, without a sigh, 

Swift hoop, and bounding ball, were first laid by, 

To clasp in joy, from schoolroom tyrant free 

The classic volume on the little knee, 

And con sweet sounds of dearest minstrelsy, 

Elizabeth Barrett Et -owning. 

Or words of sterner lore ; the young brow fraught 
With a calm brightness which might mimic thought, 
Leani on the boyish hand as, all the while, 
A half-heaved sigh, or aye th' unconscious smile 
Would tell how, o'er that page, the soul was glowing, 
In an internal transport, past the knowing ! 
How feelings, erst unfelt, did then appear, 
Give forth a voice, and murmur, " We are here ! " 
As lute-strings, which a strong hand plays upon ; 
Or Memnon's statue singing 'neath the sun. 

The negative qualities of these earliest pieces are a& 
good as their positive. They are an effluence, not 
strong, but sweet, of tenderness and of beautiful 
enthusiasm, and they are illustriously void of asperity, 
of conventional satire, of conceit, of any kind of 
flippancy. They show that, if Mrs. Browning did not 
in her girlish years write poetry, she looked poetry,, 
felt poetry, lived poetry, was a radiant incarnation of 
music and beauty moving about the Hereford par- 
sonage within sight of the Malvern Hills. 


THE first poems by which Mrs. Browning chose to- 
be permanently represented have as their sub- 
ject that tale of sin and redemption which occupied 
the. mature genius and veteran skill of Milton. Speak- 
ing somewhat largely, we may say that the Drama of 
Exile corresponds, in subject, to Milton's Paradise 
Lost, and The Seraphim to his Paradise Regained. 
In the Drama of Exile, indeed, the victory of Christ 
is touched upon, just as Satan's defeat is referred to in 
Paradise Lost, but it is in the second of Mrs. 
Browning's poems that the triumph of the Saviour 
is expressly delineated, as Milton reserved for Paradise 
Regained the specific conflict between Christ and 
Satan. We may, therefore, compare broadly the 
treatment of the entire theme by two great poets, the 
one a man, the other a woman ; the one a Puritan, 
the other the daughter of a clergyman of the Church 
of England. 

As works of literary art, the performances of Mrs. 
Browning cannot enter into rivalry with those of 

8 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

Milton. In constructive power, in sustained strength 
and severe beauty of language, in majestic harmony 
and subtle modulation of music, organ, harp, and 
flute, Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained surpass 
A Drama of Exile and The Seraphim. The language is 
the weakest part of these poems. It exhibits Mrs. 
Browning's mannerism without those qualities by 
which her mannerism was subsequently softened and 
chastened into a deeper melodiousness. The diction is 
rugged ; the imagery often borders on the grotesque ; 
we are always conscious of more or less extravagance, 
always of more or less obscurity. The very first verse 
in the Drama of Exile has an oddity of rhyme which 
Milton would never have let pass. Lucifer, address- 
ing his hosts, whom he calls up to deform and destroy 
the world which he has conquered for them, speaks 

thus : 

Bejoice'in the clefts of Gehenna, 

My exiled, my host ! 
Earth has exiles as hopeless as when a 

Heaven's empire was lost. 

On the other hand, Mrs. Browning is in some 
respects and these important more successful in 
the treatment of the subject than Milton. She throws 
a finer tenderness into her portraiture of Adam and 
Eve, especially of the latter. Charlotte Bronte ex- 
pressed in terms of scornful brilliancy the dissatisfac- 
tion with which women generally look upon Milton's 
account of Eve. It is a picture of the first woman by 
a man who holds uncompromisingly that woman's 
supreme happiness is to contribute to and sympathise 

Milton and Mrs. Browning. 9 

with the happiness of her lord and master. In doing 
justice to Eve, Mrs. Browning does justice also to 
Adam, breathing passionate life into the statuesque 
propriety of Milton's first man. 

Mrs. Browning has the superiority also in the con- 
ception formed and the view presented of redemption. 
All who have carefully considered Paradise Lost and 
Paradise Regained as the parts of one great poem 
on sin and salvation, must have been struck by the 
fact that Milton has almost ignored the death of 
Christ. In Paradise Lost he was not required to say 
much of it, but he almost wholly omits it also from 
Paradise Regained. The four books of that marvel- 
lously learned and very beautiful poem are taken up 
with an account of Christ's temptation in the wilder- 
ness. The triumph of Christ over Satan is viewed by 
Milton as essentially a triumph in argument. At the 
end of the argument and of the fotir books contain- 
ing it, do we not experience, when we first read the 
poem, a sense of utter incompleteness? Additional 
books seem to be wanted for the treatment of the 
rest of Christ's life and of His death. The universal 
judgment of Christendom has attached more conse- 
quence, in the general scheme of redemption, to the 
death on Calvary, than to the temptation in the 
wilderness, and the body of Catholic theology cor- 
responds to this Christian sentiment. It is well 
known that Milton in the latter portion of his life 
held Arian opinions ; and the only way in which I can 
account for the virtual omission of the crucifixion 

10 Elizabeth Barrett Broivning. 

from Paradise Eegained is by supposing that, when he 
wrote the poem, he had ceased to accept the Catholic 
view of Christ's death as a propitiatory sacrifice. Be 
this, however, as it may, Mrs. Browning, in The 
Seraphim, presents to us the victory of Christ over 
evil as consummated on the cross. Both in that poem 
and in the Drama of Exile, she seeks to penetrate into 
the spiritual meanings of the death of Christ, into the 
mystery of sorrow shared by Divinity, into love that, 
through death, conquers death and hell. If the feel- 
ing of Christendom, sanctioned by the opinion of such 
men as Lessing, Goethe, and Hegel, is right in appre- 
hending atonement as distinctive of Christianity, then 
Mrs. Browning must be allowed to be more compre- 
hensive than Milton in her treatment of their common 

The Drama of Exile opens with a fiercely exultant 
chant poured forth by Lucifer, who has completed the 
ruin of the human pair, and stands on the outer side 
of the gate of Eden, near the flaming sword. He and 
his angels have fallen from heaven on account of their 
sin, and his belief is that the Almighty Himself cannot 
save any created being that once has sinned. He has 
defaced God's image in the person of Adam; "un- 
kinged is the king of the garden : ' ' and he now calls 
upon his " locusts " to come up and feed in " the green 
of the world." 

Come up ! we have conquered by evil. 

Good reigns not alone, 
/prevail now ! and, angel or devil. 

Inherit a throne ! 

Lucifer and Gabriel. 11 

Suddenly Gabriel appears, and a conversation be- 
tween him and Lucifer ensues. It is but partially 
successful. The words used by Lucifer, in defiance of 
God and expression of trust in his own resolution, 
sound feebly after those of Milton's Satan. Lucifer 
affects an air of jaunty scornfulness and irony which 
recalls the mockery, though not the envenomed malig- 
nity, of Goethe's Mephistopheles. Gabriel is cour- 
teous even to Lucifer, and noble in all tones of thought. 
The fiend, believing sin to be, in the nature of things, 
unpardonable, suggests that he and his demons could 
stand with a sword between man and Eden as well as. 
Gabriel and his angels. Gabriel replies : 

Thou speakest in the shadow of thy change. 
If thou hadst gazed upon the face of God 
This morning for a moment, thou hadst known 
That only pity fitly can chastise, 
While hate avenges. 

Lucifer rejoins that no pity has been shown to him. 

When I fell back, down, staring up as I fell, 
The lightnings holding open my scathed lids, 
And that thought of the infinite of God, 
Hurled after to precipitate descent ; 
When countless angel faces still and stern 
Pressed out upon me from the level heavens 
Adown the abysmal spaces, and I feh 1 
Trampled down by your stillness, and struck blind, 
By the sight within your eyes, 'twas then I knew 
How ye could pity, my kind angel-hood ! 

Gabriel does not deem it inconsistent with loyalty to 
Heaven to express sympathy with the fallen spirit. 

Yet, thou discrowned one, by the truth in me 
Which God keeps in me, I would give away 

12 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

All save that truth and His love keeping it, 
To lead thee home again into the light, 
And hear thy voice chant with the morning stars, 
When their rays tremble round them with much song 
Sung in more gladness ! 

To the dialogue between Lucifer and Gabriel suc- 
ceeds a chorus of Eden spirits, bewailing the expulsion 
of the human pair. Some of the verses have a 
pathetic beauty. 

Hearken, oh hearken, ye shall hearken surely, 

For years and years, 
The noise beside you, dripping coldly, purely, 

Of spirits' tears ! 
The yearning to a beautiful denied you, 

Shall strain your powers ; 
Ideal sweetnesses shall overglide you, 

Eesumed from ours ! 
In all your music, our pathetic minor 

Your ears shall cross ; 
And all good gifts shall mind you of diviner, 

With sense of loss ! 

On the whole, however, there is more of fancy than 
of true imagination in this song of the river-spirits, 
bird-spirits, and flower-spirits of Eden, and it is with 
a sense of relief that, at its close, we find ourselves 
listening neither to angels nor to nightingales, but to 
Adam and Eve. They have been fleeing before the 
glare of the flaming sword, and Eve now sinks down 
weary, able only to look into Adam's face. She calls 
upon him to strike her dead, in order that, the curse 
having spent itself on her, he may be restored to 

O Adam, Adam ! by that name of Eve 
Thine Eve, thy life which suits me little now, 

Adam and Eve. 

Seeing that I confess myself thy death 
And thine undoer, as the snake was mine, 
I do adjure thee, put me straight away, 
Together with my name. 

Adam answers : 

My beloved, 

Mine Eve and life I have no other name 
For thee or for the sun than what ye are, 
My utter life and light ! If we have fallen, 
It is that we have sinned, we : God is just : 
And, since His curse doth comprehend us both 
It must be that His balance holds the weights 
Of first and last sin on a level. What ! 
Shall I who had not virtue to stand straight 
Among the hills of Eden, here assume 
To mend the justice of the perfect God, 
By piling up a curse upon His curse, 
Against thee thee 

Eve. For so, perchance, thy God 

Might take thee into grace for scorning me ; 
Thy wrath against the sinner giving proof 
Of inward abrogation of the sin ! 
And so the blessed angels might come down 
And walk with thee as erst. 

The self-sacrificing nobleness of Eve calls forth all the 
chivalry of Adam's nature, and he tells her that he is 
the greater transgressor of the two. 

If God, 

Who gave the right and joyaunce of the world 
Both unto thee and me, gave thee to me, 
The best gift last, the last sin was the worst, 
Which sinned against more complement of gifts 
And grace of giving. God ! I render back 
Strong benediction and perpetual praise 
From mortal feeble lips (as incense -snioke, 
Out of a little censer, may fill heaven), 
That Thou, in striking my benumbed hands 
And forcing them to drop all other boons 

14 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

Of beauty, and dominion, and delight, 
Hast left this well-beloved Eve this life 
Within life this best gift between their palms, 
In gracious compensation ! 

Milton does not make Adam say anything so nobly 
beautiful as that. Eve replies. 

Eve. Is it thy voice ? 

Or some saluting angel's calling home 
My feet into the garden ? 

Adam. O my God ! 

I, standing here between the glory and dark 
The glory of Thy wrath projected forth 
From Eden's wall, the dark of our distress 
Which settles a step off in that drear world 
Lift up to Thee the hands from whence hath faUen 
Only creation's sceptre thanking Thee 
That rather Thou hast cast me out with her, 
Than left me lorn of her in Paradise, 
With angel looks and angel songs around 
To show the absence of her eyes and voice. 

The sense of this is as deep and true as the poetry 
is beautiful. It is not possible for us to conceive how, 
in this world at least, human beings could be much to 
each other, and human affection have exercise and 
expansion, if there were no want, no sorrow, no toil, 
no necessity of mutual ministering. Physical evil is 
in our planet a condition of moral progress, and it was 
in the first pangs of sorrow and suffering that the 
exiles from Eden would know how dear they were 
to each other. 

Hitherto the poet has shown us chiefly the com- 
pensations and redeeming features of the state into 
which Adam and Eve have fallen ; but the tragedy 

Sin and Sorrow. 15 

now begins to deepen. By imagery too gigantesque 
and vague the signs of the zodiac being introduced 
into the machinery of the poem the anguish of the 
creatures of the earth, on account of the sin that has 
been brought into it, is shadowed forth. 

That phantasm, there, 
Presents a lion albeit twenty times 
As large as any lion with a roar 
Set soundless in his vibratoiy jaws, 
And a strange horror stirring in his mane ! 
And, there, a pendulous shadow seems to weigh 
Good against ill, perchance ; and, there, a crab 
Puts coldly out its gradual shadow-claws, 
Like a slow blot that spreads till all the ground, 
Crawled over by it, seems to crawl itself. 

The Spirit of the Earth, that once sang only of joy 
and peace, now mourns perpetually. 

I feel your steps, O wandering sinners, strike 
A sense of death to me, and undug graves ! 

The heart of earth, once calm, is trembling like 
The ragged foam along the ocean waves : 

The restless earthquakes rock against each other ; 

The elements moan round me " Mother, mother," 
And I wail ! 

The feeling with which Lucifer regards the exiles 
from Eden is that of scorn, modified by a sense of their 
advantage over him in being able to pray to God 
and to hope for pardon. This is the peculiarity of 
Mrs. Browning's Lucifer as distinguished from 
Milton's devil, and from Goethe's. I am not sure 
that Mrs. Browning has kept the character in perfect 
consistency with itself. Lucifer at first appears to be 
exultant, confident, resolute in his sin, and proud of it. 

16 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

The red sign 

Burnt on my forehead, which you taunt me with, 
Is God's sign that it bows not unto God, 
The potter's mark upoh his work, to show 
It rings well to the striker. 

This is not the speech we should expect from one 
who appreciates the infinite advantage over him 
possessed by the human pair in that they are admitted 
to converse with God. " Your prayers," says Lucifer, 
" tread high as angels." They are not doomed, as he 
says that he is, to hate, and tempt, and destroy. His 
hatred of them " glares without, because it burns 
within," with the searching fires of remorse. 

I, angel, in antagonism 
To God and His reflex beatitudes, 
Moan ever in the central universe 
With the great woe of striving against Love 
And gasp for space amid the Infinite. 

The Satan of Paradise Lost would never have said 
that ; but I shall not assert the same . so decisively of 
the Satan of Paradise Regained, for the fiend of 
Milton's second poem is much softened down. Mrs. 
Browning is careful to make it appear that Lucifer 
does not repent. He is " self-elect to Kingship of 
resistant agony toward the good; " and, therefore, her 
delineation may be formally consistent with itself. 
But such a conception of the character embraces 
elements of essential impossibility and contradictori- 
ness. A spirit that felt it to be anguish to contend 
against love would be at heart a good spirit. 

Bowed and bent almost to despair by the cruelty of 
the creatures that in Eden had been their obedient 

Christ Appears. 17 

servants, Adam and Eve now cry to God, the- latter 
placing her hope in the promise. 

my Seed, 

Through the tempestuous years that rain so thick 
Betwixt my ghostly vision and thy face, 
Let me have token ; for my soul is bruised 
Before the serpent's head is. 

In answer to this appeal, " a vision of Christ 
appears in the midst of the zodiac, which pales before 
the heavenly light." The vision rebukes the spirits of 
the earth for the " cruel and unmitigated blame " they 
have cast upon their masters. 

This regent and sublime Humanity, 

Though fallen, exceeds you ! This shall film your sun, 

Shall hunt your lightning to its lair of cloud, 

Turn back your rivers, footpath all your seas, 

Lay flat your forests, master with a look 

Your lion at his fasting. . . . 

Over you 

Eeceive man's sceptre, therefore be content 
To minister with voluntary grace 
And melancholy pardon every rite 
And function in you, to the human hand. 

He bids Adam be the spokesman of blessing to Eve. 

Speak, Adam. Bless the woman, man ; 
It is thine office. 

Adam's blessing is in itself a beautiful and touching 
poem, full of wise meaning. I abridge it very con- 

Eaise the majesties 

Of thy disconsolate brows, O well-beloved, 
And front with level eyelids the To come, 
And all the dark o' the world. Eise, woman, rise 


18 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

To thy peculiar and best altitudes 

Of doing good and of enduring ill, 

Of comforting for ill, and teaching good, 

And reconciling all that ill and good 

Unto the patience of a constant hope, 

Eise with thy daughters ! If sin came by thee, 

And by sin death, the ransom-righteousness, 

The heavenly life, and compensative rest 

Shall come by means of thee. Be satisfied ; 

Something thou hast to bear through womanhood, 

Peculiar suffering answering to the sin, 

Some pang paid down for each new human life, 

Some weariness in guarding such a life, 

Some coldness from the guarded, some mistrust, 

And pressures of an alien tyranny 

With its dynastic reasons of larger bones 

And stronger sinews. But, go to ! thy love 

Shall chant itself its own beatitudes, 

After its own life-working. A child's kiss, 

Set on thy sighing lips, shall make thee glad ; 

A poor man, served by thee, shall make thee rich ; 

A sick man, helped by thee, shall make thee strong ; 

Thou shalt be served thyself by every sense 

Of service which thou renderest. . . . 

Thy hand which plucked the apple, I clasp close, 

I bless thee in the name of Paradise, 

And by the memory of Edenic joys 

Forfeit and lost 

I bless thee to the desert and the thorns, 
To the elemental change and turbulence, 
And to the roar of the estranged beasts, 
And to the solemn dignities of grief, 
To each one of these ends and to their END 
Of death and the hereafter. 

The rest of the poem is taken up with prophetic 
adumbration of the victory of Christ. Lucifer learns 
that he shall be finally baffled, because the sorrow in 
which he thought it impossible that God could share 

The Divine Man. 19 

has been partaken of by the Divine Man, and Christ 
has become " an exile from His heaven, to lead these 
exiles homeward." 

I cannot do justice to these poems without quoting 
one or two additional passages illustrative of their 
imaginative and intellectual power, and the strength, 
blended with splendour, of their language. In a 
passage as thoughtful as it is beautiful, words are put 
into the mouth of Christ, describing the influence of 
His life and death upon the human family. The poet 
writes as one who believes the prophecy she records. 
At this time Mrs. Browning's mind was thoroughly 
imbued with what would be called evangelical the- 
ology. The prophecy has, in great part, still to be 
fulfilled, but in its fulfilment is the best hope of the 
world. Christ speaks : 

At last, 

I, wrapping round Me your humanity, 
"Which, being sustained, shall never break nor burn 
Beneath the fire of Godhead, will tread earth, 
And ransom you and it, and set strong peace 
Betwixt you and its creatures. With My pangs 
I will confront your sins ; and since those sins 
Have sunken to all Nature's heart from yours, 
The tears of My clean soul shall follow them, 
And set a holy passion to work clear 
Absolute consecration. In My brow 
Of kingly whiteness shall be crowned anew 
Your discrowned human nature. Look on Me ! 
As I shall be uplifted on a cross 
In darkness of eclipse and anguish dread, 
So shall I lift up in My pierced hands, 
Not into dark, but light not unto death, 
But life, beyond the reach of guilt and grief, 
The whole creation. Henceforth in My name 


20 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

Take courage, O thou woman man, take hope ! 

Your grave shall be as smooth as Eden's sward, 

Beneath the steps of your prospective thoughts, 

And, one step past it, a new Eden-gate 

Shall open on a hinge of harmony, 

And let you through to mercy. Ye shall fall 

No more, within that Eden, nor pass out 

Any more from it. In which hope, move on, 

First sinners and first mourners. Live and love, 

Doing both nobly, because lowlily ! 

Live and work, strongly, because patiently ! 

And, for the deed of death, trust it to God 

That it be well done, unrepented of, 

And not to loss. And thence, with constant prayers 

Fasten your souls so high, that constantly 

The smile of your heroic cheer may float 

Above all floods of earthly agonies, 

Purification being the joy of pain ! 

It is written that the last enemy that shall be over- 
come is Death. With sublime audacity the young 
poet-woman imaginatively realises the taming and 
slaying of the pale horse on which rides Death. 
Christ " shall quell him with a breath, and shall lead 
him where He will, with a whisper in the ear, full of 
fear, and a hand upon the mane, grand and still." 
What woman has ever lived except Mrs. Browning 
that could have imagined and achieved the following 
passage ? It contains some fantastic lines, but the 
imagination of a great poet throbs audibly in it as a 

Through the flats of Hades, where the souls assemble, 
He will guide the Death-steed calm between their ranks, 
While, like beaten dogs, they a little moan and tremble 
To see the darkness curdle from the horse's glittering flanks. 
Through the flats of Hades, where the dreary shade is, 

Death-steed. 21 

Up the steep of heaven, will the Tamer guide the steed, 

Up the spheric circles circle above circle, 

We who count the ages shall count the tolling tread 

Every hoof-fall striking a blinder, blanker sparkle 

From the stony orbs, which shall show as they were dead, 

All the way the Death-steed with tolling hoofs shall travel, 

Ashen grey the planets shall be motionless as stones, 

Loosely shall the systems eject their parts coeval, 

Stagnant in the spaces, shall float the pallid moons ; 

Suns that touch their apogees, reeling from their level, 

Shall run back on their axles^in wild, low, broken tunes ; 

Up against the arches of the crystal ceiling 

From the horse's nostrils shall steam the blurting breath ; 

Up between the angels pale with silent feeling, 

Will the Tamer calmly lead the horse of Death ; 

Cleaving all that silence, cleaving all that glory, 

Will the Tamer lead him straightway to the Throne : 

" Look out, O Jehovah, to this I bring before Thee 

With a hand nail-pierced, I, who am Thy Son." 

Then the Eye Divinest, from the Deepest, flaming 

On the mystic courser, shall look out in fire ! 

Blind the beast shall stagger where It overcame him, 

Meek as lamb at pasture bloodless in desire 

Down the beast shall shiver, slain amid the taming, 

And, by Life essential, the phantasm Death expire. 

Hitherto our quotations have been from the Drama 
of Exile. The next is from The Seraphim. That 
poem describes the emotions with which Zerah and 
Ador, two of the heavenly host, contemplate the work 
of Christ upon earth, and in particular the death upon 
Calvary. One or two descriptive touches, rendering 
the appearance of the crowd, are terrible in their 
graphic vividness. 

With the living's pride 
They stare at those who die, who hang 
In their sight and die. They bear the streak 

22 Elizabeth Barrett Broivning. 

Of the crosses' shadow, black not wide, 
To fall on their heads, as it swerves aside 

When the victims' pang 

Makes the crosses creak. 

The thieves, penitent and impenitent, who were 
crucified with Christ, are depicted. 

Zerah. One 

Is as a man who has sinned, and still 
Doth wear the wicked will, 
The hard malign life-energy, 
Tossed outward, in the parting soul's disdain, 
On brow and lip that cannot change again. 

Ador. And one 

Zerah. Has also sinned. 

And yet (0 marvel !) doth the Spirit-wind 
Blow white those waters ? Death upon his face 
Is rather shine than shade, 
A tender shine by looks beloved made. 
He seemeth dying in a quiet place, 
And less by iron wounds in hands and feet, 
Than heart-broke by new joy too sudden and sweet. 

Could anything be more tender in its loveliness than 
the line, " He seemeth dying in a quiet place " ? 

While the seraphs look upon the crucifixion, they 
muse on the fact that, much as they and their angel 
kindred may love God, they cannot love Him so well 
as redeemed mankind. 

Ador. Do we love not ? 

Zerah. Yea, 

But not as man shall ! Not with life for death, 
New-throbbing through the startled being ! Not 
"With strange astonished smiles, that ever may 
Gush passionate like tears and fill their place ! 
Nor yet with speechless memories of what 

Christ on the Cross. 23 

Earth's winters were, enverduring the green 

Of every heavenly palm, 

Whose windless, shadeless calm 
Moves only at the breath of the Unseen. 
Oh, not with this blood on us and this face, 
Still, haply, pale with sorrow that it bore 
In our behalf, and tender evermore 
With nature all our own, upon us gazing ! 
Nor yet with these forgiving hands upraising 
Their unreproachful wounds, alone to bless. 

Love Hun more, O man ! 

Than sinless seraphs can. 

The description of the moment when Christ dies, 
and the earth is shrouded in darkness, is one of the 
most sublime passages that has been written since the 
death of Milton. 

Zerah. The pathos hath the day undone : 
The death-look of His eyes 
Hath overcome the sun, 
And made it sicken in its narrow skies. 
Ador. Is it to death ? He dieth. 

Zerah. Through the dark 

He still, He only, is discernible 
The naked hands and feet, transfixed stark, 
The countenance of patient anguish white, 
Do make themselves a light 

More dreadful than the glooms which round them dwell, 
And therein do they shine. 

The epilogue, in which the poet gently comments on 
her own daring song, is full of grace and pathos. 

Ah ! what am I 
To counterfeit, with faculty earth-darkened, 

Seraphic brows of light 
And seraph language never used nor hearkened ? 

24 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

Ah me ! What word that seraphs say could come 
From mouth so used to sighs so soon to lie 
Signless, because then breathless in the tomb ? 

Forgive me, that mine earthly heart should dare 
Shape images of unincarnate spirits, 
And lay upon their burning lips a thought 
Cold with the weeping which mine earth inherits ! 
And though ye find in such hoarse music, wrought 
To copy yours, a cadence all the while 
Of sin and sorrow only pitying smile ! 

Ye know to pity, well. 
I, too, may haply smile another day 
At the far recollection of this lay, 
When God may call me in your midst to dwell, 
To hear your most sweet music's miracle 
And see your wondrous faces. May it be ! 
For His remembered sake,^he Slain on rood, 
Who rolled His earthly, garment red in blood 
(Treading the wine-press) that the weajk, like me, 
Before His heavenly throne should walk in white. 

Such are the astonishing poems in which Elizabeth 
Barrett Barrett, now above thirty, announced that 
another great poet had arisen in England, a poet 
of almost excessive fervour and intensity, whose 
imagination would quail before nothing in heaven, 
earth, or hell, and who possessed, at the same time, 
the deepest tenderness that could dwell in a woman's 
heart. Putting aside Dante and Milton, T know 
nothing in religious poetry at all comparable, for 
imaginative power, with the Drama of Exile and The 
Seraphim. That they are imperishable is, I should 
say, probable ; but the probability is clouded with a 
doubt from the fact that they are conspicuously defec- 
tive in one quality of great and deathless poetry, to 

The Defect of these Poems. 25 

wit, simplicity. Able as she was to use " the mother 
tongue of noble passion," the woman singer could not 
perfectly trust to simple language. It would, perhaps, 
be more correct to say that her imagination was too 
vehement, too impetuous, to be restrained by judgment, 
and that, like a strong, wild horse of the desert, when 
first mounted, it took the bit in its teeth and ran away 
with the rider. At all events, the imagery of these 
poems, especially of the first, is so vaguely gorgeous 
and erudite, the invention so elaborate and complex, 
that many readers will be -permanently repelled 
by them. "The sense reels," I wrote formerly, and 
a new reading has not altered my opinion, " under the 
bewildering pageantry of earth spirits, and bird spirits, 
and river spirits, of zodiacs, and stars, and chorussing 
angels; the mind is perplexed with gnomons, and 
apogees, and vibrations, and infinites. One stares on 
all this as one might on the foam, glorious in its 
shivered snow and wavering irises, which roars and 
raves round a coral reef. The vessel draws near the 
reef, and many an eye looks into the foam ; but its 
beauty fascinates only for a moment, and the sail fills, 
and the island is left for ever. Never, perhaps, is it 
known that in the heart of that island, hidden by the 
torn fringes of tinted foam, there was soft green grass, 
and a quiet, crystal fountain, and cottages smiling in 
the light of flowers, and all the home affections." 

I beg to express the earnest hope that my readers, 
if they have not yet studied these memorable poems, 
will not permit themselves- to be repelled by the 

26 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

demands they make upon the attention and the 
thinking faculty. They bear throughout the impress 
of an original mind and a sovereign imagination, and 
the deep beating of a woman's heart makes rare, sweet 
melody in them from first to last. Amid the stormy 
grandeurs of their imagery, this deep music comes in 
with enhanced effect, as the penetrating tenderness of 
" Home, Sweet Home " might come in amid the melo- 
dious crash and clamour of orchestral thunderings. 


IN A Vision of Poets and The Poet's Vow, the in- 
fluence of Tennyson is traceable. If A Dream of 
Fair Women and The Palace of A rt had never been 
written, the likelihood is that neither would have seen 
the light. And yet it is not easy to point out the 
effect produced by Tennyson, for the poems are in 
different measures from his, and the mode of treat- 
ment in the respective works is diverse. The influence 
is felt first, in cadences that recall Tennysonian 
tones ; secondly, in the construction of one, at least, of 
the poems ; and, thirdly, in their reasonings and con- 
clusions. A Vision of Poets opens thus : 

A poet could not sleep aright, 

For his soul kept up too much light 

Under his eyelids for the night. 

And thus he rose disquieted 

With sweet rhymes ringing through his head, 

And in the forest wandered. 

In Tennyson's Dream of Fair Women, the poet falls 
asleep and straightway wanders in "an old wood." 
The resemblance here is so close that, although Mrs. 

28 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

Browning, in the subsequent arrangement of her 
machinery, does not follow Tennyson, the recollec- 
tion of it clings to the reader. I cannot say that, in 
the invention and delineation of the visions which the 
hero of Mrs. Browning's poems sees in the forest, she 
is so felicitous as Tennyson. Again she lacks sim- 
plicity. Her poem is too long, also, and she detracts 
from the effect of stanzas of great power and splen- 
dour by addition of others that are of far inferior 
excellence. Nevertheless, there is in the piece the 
vitality of genius. Several of the word-portraits of 
" God's prophets of the Beautiful " are true to the life 
and rich in suggestive meaning. 

Here, Homer, with the broad suspense 
Of thunderous brows, and lips intense 
Of garrulous god-innocence. 

The "broad suspense of thunderous brows " has, to 
my thinking, more sound than sense ; but the " garru- 
lous god-innocence " the child-like, joyous conscious- 
ness that gods and heroes are inexpressibly interesting, 
and worthy of being talked about and sung about 
without end must strike every one who at all knows 
the Homeric poems as singularly happy and accurate. 

There Shakespeare ! on whose forehead climb 
The crowns of the world. Oh, eyes sublime 
With tears and laughter for all time ! 

Turning again to the ancients, she throws a few 
words on the page, and likeness after likeness starts up. 

Hesiod old, 

Who, somewhat blind and deaf and cold, 
Cared most for gods and bulls. And bold, 

Prophets of the Beautiful. 29 

Electric Pindar, quick as fear, 

With race -dust on his cheeks, and clear 

Slant startled eyes that seem to hear 

The chariot rounding the last goal, 
To hurtle past it in its soul. 
And Sappho, with that gloriole 

Of ebon hair on calmed brows 
0, poet- woman ! none foregoes 
The leap, attaining the repose ! 

She throws Spenser into a group with Ariosto, and 
adds a stanza which hardly does justice to Dante. 

And Spenser drooped his dreaming head 
(With languid sleep -smile you had said 
From his own verse engendered) 

On Ariosto's, till they ran 
Their curls in one. The Italian 
Shot nimbler heat of bolder man 

From his fine lids. And Dante stern 
And sweet, whose spirit was an urn 
For wine and milk, poured out in turn. 

We have sketches of Alfieri, Berni, Tasso, Kacine, 
Corneille, Petrarch, Camoens, Calderon, De Vega, 
Goethe, Schiller, Chaucer, and many more. I can 
make room only for Milton, Burns, and Shelley. 

Here Milton's eyes strike piercing-dim : 
The shapes of suns and stars did swim 
Like clouds from them, and granted him 

God for sole vision. . . , 

And Burns, with pungent passionings 
Set in his eyes. Deep lyric springs 
Are of the fire-mount's issuings. 

And Shelley, in his white ideal, 
All statue blind. 

30 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

There is immense ability crowded into these brief 
limnings. The pungent passionings of Burns's eyes 
the volcanic fire of soul from which gushed forth his 
songs these are the descriptive strokes of one who 
had looked into the very heart of the man. Scott saw 
Burns once, but he never forgot his eyes, which 
burned, says Sir Walter, like gig-lamps. The lines on 
Shelley are as wonderful as any in the poem. " The 
words contain," I said once, " the key to Shelley's 
biography. It was precisely the dazzling radiance of 
Shelley's ideal which struck him stone-blind to the 
actual world." 

As we proceed in our examination of Mrs. Brown- 
ing's poems, we find them becoming more human in 
subject and more simple in treatment. Lucifer and 
Gabriel and the Seraphim give place to earth-born 
poets ; but even the poets form part of the pageantry 
of a vision. In The Poet's Vow, however, we have 
human personages, without any visionary or phantas- 
magoric aids or hindrances to the imagination. At 
the outset in the second and third stanzas of the 
poem there occurs a brief but beautiful description of 

The rowers lift their oars to view 

Each other in the sea, 
The landsmen watch the rocking boats 

In a pleasant company, 
While up the hill go gladlier still 

Dear friends by two and three. 

The peasant's wife hath looked without 
Her cottage door and smiled, 

The Poet's Vow. 31 

For there the peasant drops his spade 

To clasp his youngest child 
Which hath no speech, but his hands can reach 

And stroke his forehead mild. 

This picture of Nature's hushed landscape at the fall 
of evening prepares us for the strikingly original con- 
ception of a man a poet whose very serenity attests 
the coldness of his heart. 

You would not think that brow coiild e'er 

Ungentle moods express : 
Yet seemed it, in this troubled world, 

Too calm for gentleness ; 
When the very star, that shines from afar, 

Shines trembling, ne'ertheless. 

There was in his face none of that "softening light" 
which the presence of others, awakening sympathy in 
us, supplies. " None gazed within the poet's face; the 
poet gazed in none ; " he had resolved to wean himself 
from all association with the base brotherhood of man- 
kind, to be rid of the " weights and shows of sensual 
things,'* to hear no cry haunting the earth as with the 
appeal of Abel's blood. Earth, he says, with all her 
creatures, has been cursed in the curse of man ; but he 
does not partake in the sin ; and, in sympathy with 
Nature, he is sensible of "an holy wrath " that impels 
him to break the bondage knitting him to his kind. 
Accordingly he makes a vow, to this effect : 

Hear me forswear man's sympathies, 

His pleasant yea and no 
His riot on the piteous earth 

Whereon his thistles grow ! 
His changing love with stars above ! 

His pride with graves below ! 

32 Elizabeth Barrett Broioning. 

Hear me forswear his roof by night, 

His bread and salt by day, 
His talkings at the wood-fire hearth, 

His greetings by the way, 
His answering looks, his systemed books, 

All man, for aye and aye. 

Alone with Nature, he expects that his purged heart, 
" rent " from its human debasements, will drink of 
Nature's wine of wonder and beauty, and that he will 
share with clouds and trees and waters the blessing of 
serenity which they had before earth was blasted by 
Adam's sin. The mystic affection of Nature encircling 
him will be better than that of child, friend, wife, or 

And ever, when I lift my brow 

At evening to the sun, 
No voice of woman or of child 

Recording "Day is done," 
Your silence shall a love express 

More deep than such an one ! 

Having determined irrevocably, he takes measures 
to give effect to his resolution. Sharing his silver and 
gold among his crowding friends, he finds his gifts 
accepted with bland complacency, and his hand taken, 
for the last time, " in a somewhat slacker hold." The 
crowd having passed away, he has to deal with two 
who remain, one of them his friend of friends among 
men, the other his more than friend among women. 
He proposes that his best friend shall wed Rosalind, 
his "plighted bride," that his ancestral lands shall 
serve her for dower, and that the pair shall neither 

Rosalind and Sir Roland. 33 

remember nor lament him. Kosalind looks upon him 
silently, with unspeakable meaning in her face, 

Like a child that never knew but love, 
Whom words of wrath surprise. 

The tears come when she attempts to speak, but at 
last her words make way, and she gently remonstrates 
against his gospel of heartless pride. 

I thought but I am half a child, 

And very sage art thou 
The teachings of the heaven and earth 

Should keep us soft and low. 

She spurns, as every true woman would, his con- 
siderate offer of a livelihood. If Elaine cannot have 
Lancelot, the knight may keep his proffered money. 
Nor will Rosalind marry the respected friend to whom 
her lover graciously hands her over. 

I will not live Sir Eoland's bride 

That dower I will not hold ! 
I tread below my feet that go, 

These parchments bought and sold. 
The tears I weep are mine to keep, 

And worthier than thy gold. 

Sir Roland rebukes him in terms less touching, but 
more sublime. 

And thou, distant, sinful heart, 

That climbest up so high, 
To wrap and blind thee with the snows 

That cause to dream and die 
What blessing can from lips of man 

Approach thee with his sigh ? 

Ay ! what, from earth create for man, 
And moaning in his moan ? 

34 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

Ay ! what from stars revealed to man, 

And man-named, one by one ? 
Ay, more ! what blessing can be given, 
Where the spirits seven do show in heaven 

A MAN upon the throne ? 

A man on earth He wandered once, 

All meek and undefiled : 
And those who loved Him, said " He wept " 

None ever said He smiled, 
Yet there might have been a smile unseen, 
When He bowed His holy face, I ween, 

To bless that happy child. 

The poet persists in his purpose. If Rosalind and 
Sir Eoland will not have his lands, the poor shall be 
endowed with them. For his part, he betakes him 
to the ruined hall of Courland, where bats cling to 
the ceilings and lizards run on the floors, to live in 
isolation from mankind. 

Year after year passes on ; but whether it is that 
Christians wend by to their prayers, or that bridal 
parties trip along in festive array, or that little 
children stand near the wall to see the green lizards, 
he has no word, no blessing, no sympathy for any- 
thing in human shape. 

Rosalind, pining heart-broken, lies at last on her 
death-bed. She then tells the " loving nurse " to 
smooth her tresses when she is dead, to uplift her 
hands, laying them, palm to palm, to place her on a 
bier, and to put beneath her head a pillow formed of 
flowers like those which she used to gather when she 
and her poet-lover played as children in the woods. 
When " the corpse 's smile " appeared on the face, the 

The Procession of the Corpse. 35 

nurse was to place upon the breast a scroll, and " the 
youngest children dear " were to carry the dead 
Kosalind, not to the churchyard, but to the old hall 
of Courland. 

And up the bank where I used to sit 

And dream what life would be, 
Along the brook, with its sunny look 

Akin to living glee, 
O'er the windy hill, through the forest still, 

Let them gently carry me. 


And when withal they near the hall, 

In silence let them lay 
My bier before the bolted door, 

And leave it for a day : 
For I have vowed, though I am proud, 
To go there as a guest in shroud, 

And not be turned away. 

These instructions are obeyed. The poet, secure at 
midnight from human intrusion, unbolts his door, 
looks out beneath the stars, and sees their cold light 
on the face of the dead. 

It lay before him, human-like, 

Yet so unlike a thing ! 
More awful in its shrouded pomp 

Than any crowned king, 
All calm and cold, as it did hold 

Some secret, glorying. 

A heavier weight than of its clay 

Clung to his heart and knee, 
As if those folded palms could strike, 

He staggered groaningly, 
And then o'erhung, without a groan, 
The meek close mouth that smiled alone, 

Whose speech the scroll must be. 


36 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

The words of the scroll are too many for quotation, 
except in part. 

I have prayed for thee with silent lips 

In the anguish none could see ; 
They whispered oft, " She sleepeth soft " 

But I only prayed for thee. 

Go to ! I pray for thee no more 

The corpse's tongue is still. 
Its folded fingers point to heaven, 

But point there stiff and chill. 
No farther wrong, no farther woe, 
Hath license from the sin below 

Its tranquil heart to thrill. 

I charge thee, by the living's prayer, 

And the dead's silentness, 
To wring from out thy soul a cry 

Which God shall hear and bless ! 
Lest heaven's own palm droop in my hand, 
And pale among the saints I stand, 

A saint companionless. 

The parallelism between the death of Rosalind and 
the journey of her corpse to the hall of Courland and 
the death of Elaine and the journey of her corpse to 
Camelot, as detailed in one of Tennyson's Idylls, can 
hardly escape notice. Mrs. Browning, however, was 
first in the field, unless, indeed, the journey of the 
dead Kosalind was suggested by the voyage of 
the Lady of Shalott, which may, I think, be fairly 
excluded from the list of probabilities. There can, at 
all events, be no dispute as to the originality of Mrs. 
Browning in relation to the part played by the corpse. 
The dead Lady of Shalott has no scroll on breast or in 
hand, and the scroll was laid by Mrs. Browning on the 
breast of her Kosalind before the letter was put into 

The Poet Vanquished. 37 

the dead hand of Elaine by Tennyson. Rosalind's 
scroll, moreover, serves a more important purpose 
than Elaine's letter. Elaine comes to take farewell of 
Lancelot. She makes no complaint, utters no re- 
proach, asks Lancelot to join others in praying for her 
soul as "a knight peerless." The conception of an 
appeal made by the dead to the living, as a means of 
producing a complete change and transformation in 
the latter, belongs exclusively to Mrs. Browning. The 
appeal of the dead Rosalind proves irresistible. The 
poet bows his face on the corpse in a paroxysm of 
anguish and remorse. 

'Twas a dread sight to see them so 
For the senseless corpse rocked to and fro 
With the wail of his living mind. 

His " long-subjected humanness " asserted itself 
with lion-like strength, "and fiercely rent its tenement 
in a mortal agony." 

I tell you, friends, had you heard his wail, 
'Twould haunt you in court and mart, 

And in merry feast until you set 
Your cup down to depart 

That weeping wild of a reckless child 
From a proud man's broken heart. 

Meanwhile the " worshipped earth and sky," the 
stars and hills for which he had renounced human 
fellowship, " looked on all indifferently." Finding no 
solace" in these, he turned to his dead Rosalind and 
died upon her breast : 

For when they came at dawn of day 
To lift the lady's corpse away, 
Her bier was holding twain. 

38 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

Tennyson, describing the temptation treated of in 
The Palace of Art, says that " he that shuts love out, 
in turn shall be shut out from love, and on her 
threshold lie howling in outer darkness." The words 
are an expressive statement of Mrs. Browning's thesis 
in A Poet's Vow. But there is a difference in the way 
in which, in the respective poems, the temptation is 
yielded to. The " sinful soul " of Tennyson's allegory 
turns from the crowd from the nation from the 
general mass of mankind, but by no means relinquishes 
humanity. She takes refuge in art, in literature, in 
philosophy. She dwells with the great poetic makers 
of all time. Sculpture and painting fill the corridors 
of her palace with images, and light up its walls with 
pictures. She hates mankind, but adores the select 
few who have risen above the multitude, and the very 
essence of her sin is the pride on which she values 
herself as a sister of these. Mrs. Browning's poet 
forsakes man altogether, his " systemed books " as 
well as his popular follies, his poems and pictures as 
well as his senates and market-places, and seeks, in 
the companionship of Nature, a sympathy more pure* 
lofty, and serene than humanity, high or low, can 
yield. Her poem, therefore, is the ethical complement 
of Tennyson's, and The Palace of Art and A Poet's 
Vow form between them an exhaustive treatment, 
under poetic symbols, of the cardinal sin of isolation 
from human interests, duties, affections, joys, and 



THE Romaunt of Margret is cast, to some extent, 
in the mould of the old ballads, to about the 
same extent as Eossetti's Sister Helen, but it lacks 
the simplicity of the deep-thoughted harpers and 
minstrels whose reliques were collected by Bishop 
Percy and Walter Scott. It is a mysterious, painful, 
uncanny poem, suggestive of ghosts and haunted 
river-sides, and telling, dimly and eerily, a tale of 
love and suicide. A " fair ladye " sits by a river that 
runs by a hill and through forest trees, dreaming 
pleasantly of her lover. The darkness of night deepens 
the black of her hair, " and the pale moonlight on her 
forehead white like a spirit's hand is laid." Her shadow 
lies on the river, steady and changeless while the river 
never rests : 

Most like a trusting heart 

Upon a passing faith, 
Or as, upon the course of life, 

The steadfast doom of death. 

40 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

We now begin to feel that the forest is the scene 
of some "enchantment drear." The lady's shadow 
collects itself into a wraith or double. 

It shaketh without wind, 

It parteth from the tide, 
It standeth upright in the cleft moonlight 

It sitteth at her side. 

Look in its face, ladye, 

And keep thee from thy swound ! 
With a spirit bold thy pulses hold, 

And hear its voice's sound ! 

For so will sound thy voice, 

When thy face is to the wall ! 
And such wiU be thy face, ladye, 

When the maidens work thy pall ! 

The lady and her ghostly double engage in talk, and 
though it is difficult to assign a precise meaning to 
the utterances of the wraith, they imply that, for some 
too darkly-hinted reason, the lady has lost the supreme 
and trustful love of her brother, her sister, and her 
father, and that her chosen knight is dead. The 
wraith, after telling her that those of her own blood 
have ceased to love her, speaks of the absent 
knight : 

He loved but only thee ! 

That love is transient, too, 
The wild hawk's bill doth dabble still 

I' the mouth that vowed thee true. 
Will he open his dull eyes, 

When tears fall on his brow ? 
Behold, the death-worm to his heart 

Is a nearer thing than thou. 

The Romaunt of Margret. 41 

Accepting these intimations of her other self, the 
lady decides that life is intolerable. 

Her face was on the ground 

None saw the agony ! 
But the men at sea did that night agree 

They heard a drowning cry. 
And when the morning brake, 

Fast rolled the river's tide, 
With the green trees waving overhead, 

And a white corse laid beside. 

The gloomy intent of the whole poem seems to be 
suggested in the last four lines. 

O failing human love ! 

O light by darkness known ! 
false, the while thou treadest earth, 

O deaf, beneath the stone ! 

Whether the pride of the baron, her father, in whose 
court are a hundred knights, had parted the lovers, we 
are not distinctly told. As much may, however, be 
inferred ; for while the brother and sister weep for the 
lady and kiss her corpse, the baron stands "alone yet 
proudly " in his hall. Pride and death have triumphed 
over love. The poem displays imaginative power, but 
the machinery, though perhaps in keeping with that 
of the old folk-lore ballads, is grotesque. It is an 
attempt to realise in poetic form the semi-delirious 
dreamings of an unhappy lady before committing 
suicide ; and it may be doubted whether such a subject 
was worthy of Mrs. Browning. 

In Isabel's Child our woman-poet is again at her 
strongest. For torrent-like fulness of meaning, for 

42 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

rich and solemn swell of musical harmony, for the 
compression that betokens maturity of power, for 
truth of imaginative colouring, this poem is perhaps 
superior to anything we have yet examined of her 
work. She wrote it before her marriage, yet it seems 
safe to say that the emotions of maternity were never 
expressed with such impassioned tenderness. 

The weary nurse has gone to rest, tired by an eight- 
day watch, and now Isobel takes her babe on her own 
knee, rejoicing inexpressibly in the thought that the 
fever is waning, that the child is sleeping well in the 
shadow of her smile. Outside, the sun is darkened as 
if in strange eclipse, the forest and the clouds are rent 
or tossed with storm, but the external noises only 
deepen the silent joy of the mother's soul. 

So motionless she sate, 
The babe asleep upon her knees, 
You might have dreamed their souls had gone 
Away to things inanimate, 
In such to live, in such to moan ; 
And that their bodies had ta'en back, 
In mystic change, all silences 
That cross the sky in cloudy rack, 
Or dwell beneath the reedy ground 
In waters safe from their own sound. 

Only she wore 

The deepening smile I named before, 
And that a deepening love expressed 
And who at once can love and rest ? 

Her smile was joyful in proportion to the anxiety 
she had suffered in the eight-day watch, which, indeed, 
had been " an eight-day weeping." The picture of the 
mother and the child say, rather the group chiselled 

Isobel's Child. 43 

by fine words as if in vivid marble is a thing to be 

Motionless she sate, 

Her hair had fallen by its weight 

On each side of her smile, and lay 

Very blackly on the arm 

Where the baby nestled warm, 

Pale as baby carved in stone 

Seen by glimpses of the moon 

Up a dark cathedral aisle ! 

But, through the storm, no moonbeam fell 

Upon the child of Isobel 

Perhaps you saw it by the ray 

Alone of her still smile. 

We now learn that, during the eight days of 
watching, Isobel had prayed importunately that her 
child might live. She had been bold in her prayer. 

Oh, take not, Lord, my babe away 
Oh, take not to Thy songful heaven, 
The pretty baby Thou hast given. 

* * * * * 

Think, God among the cherubim, 

How I shall shiver every day 

In Thy June sunshine, knowing where 

The grave-grass keeps it from his fair 

Still cheeks ! and feel at every tread 

His little body which is dead 

And hidden in the turfy fold, 

Doth make the whole warm earth a- cold ! 

God, I am so young, so young 

1 am not used to tears at nights 
Instead of slumber nor to prayer 
With sobbing lips and hands outwrung ! 

* * * * * 
Dear Lord, who spreadest out above 
Thy loving, transpierced hands to meet 
All lifted hearts with blessing sweet, 

44 Elizabeth Barrett Broivning. 

Pierce not my heart, my tender heart, 
Thou madest tender ! Thou who art 
So happy in Thy heaven alway, 
Take not mine only bliss away ! 

Her petition is granted. The child is manifestly 
recovering. But, with a touch of the supernatural, 
which is well managed in the poem, the baby begins 
to speak to Isobel and she listens. 

mother, mother, loose thy prayer ! 
Christ's name hath made it strong ! 

It bindeth me, it holdeth me 
With its most loving cruelty 
From floating my new soul along 

The happy, heavenly air ! 
It bindeth me, it holdeth me 
In all this dark, upon this dull 

Low earth, by only weepers trod ! 
It bindeth me, it holdeth me ! 
Mine angel looketh sorrowful 

Upon the face of God. 

The child prevails. The prayer is recalled. When 
the nurse, awakening in the morning sun, looks to the 
mother, she sees the babe dead on Isobel' s arm. She 
could utter no cry, so calm was the mother's face. 

" Wake, nurse ! " the lady said : 
" We are waking he and I 

1 on earth, and he in sky ! 

And thou must help me to o'erlay 
With garment white this little clay, 
Which needs no more our lullaby. 

I changed the cruel prayer I made, 
And bowed my meekened face, and prayed 
That God would do His will ! and thus 
He did it, nurse ! He parted us. 
And His sun shows victorious 

Little Ellie. 45 

The dead calm face, and I am calm; 
And Heaven is hearkening a new psalm." 

Resigned to wait until she shall meet her child in 
heaven, she addresses herself to her earthly duties, 
satisfied that God's will is more loving than hers. 

The Eomance of the Swan's Nest is a brilliant little 
poem, delicately light in its pictorial touch, pensively 
gay in its musical cadence. It opens with a vignette 
portrait of the heroine. 

Little Ellie sits alone 
'Mid the beeches of a meadow, 

By a stream-side, on the grass, 

And the trees are showering down 
Doubles of their leaves in shadow, 

On her shining face and hair. 

She has thrown her bonnet by ; 
And her feet she has been dipping 

In the shallow water's flow 

Now she holds them nakedly 
In her hands, all sleek and dripping, 

While she rocketh to and fro. 

As she rocks, she thinks of a swan's nest, with two 
precious eggs, which she has found among the reeds. 
A vision of the knight who is to he her lover rises 
before her. He will be a noble fellow, playing on 
the lute to the enchantment of ladies, smiting with 
the sword to the astonishment of men ; and his steed 
is to be a red-roan steed of steeds, shod in silvei 
and housed in blue. This paragon is to be sent by 
little Ellie "to put away all wrong," and to empty the 
quiver of the wicked. Three times he is to send his 

46 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

foot-page to Ellie for a word of comfort. She is to be 
coy and proud. The first time she will send him a 
white rose-bud ; the second a glove ; at the third time 
of asking, she will permit him to return and claim her 
hand. When he has come, and they are man and 
wife, she will show him the swan's nest among the 
reeds. Mrs. Browning shall tell the rest. 

Little Ellie, with her smile 
Not yet ended, rose up gaily , 

Tied the bonnet, donned the shoe 

And went homeward, round a mile, 
Just to see, as she did daily, 

What more eggs were with the two. 

Pushing through the elm-tree copse, 
Winding by the stream, light-hearted, 

Where the osier pathway leads 

Past the boughs she stoops and stops : 
Lo ! the wild swan had deserted 

And a rat had gnawed the reeds. 

Ellie went home sad and slow. 
If she found the lover ever, 

With his red-roan steed of steeds, 

Sooth I know not ! but I know 
She could never show him never, 

That swan's nest among the reeds ! 

Bertha in the Lane calls for no special remark. 
The heroine dies of a broken heart, because her 
lover forsakes her for her younger sister. The tone of 
the poem is oppressively sad. In Bertha the poet 
depicts one of those weak, gentle, beautiful, ill-starred 
persons, who seem born to make way for happier and 
more potent natures. The following lines describe the 

Bertha in the Lane. 47 

character with psychological exactness and fine poetic 
imagery. It is Bertha who speaks, addressing the 
sister who has been preferred by the lover. 

I had died, dear, all the same- 
Life's long, joyous, jostling game 
Is too loud for my meek shame. 

We are so unlike each other, 

Thou and I, that none could guess 

We were children of one mother, 
But for mutual tenderness. 

Thou art rose -lined from the cold, 

And meant, verily, to hold 

Life's pure pleasures manifold. 

I am pale as crocus grows 

Close beside a rose-tree's root ! 
Whosoe'er would reach the rose, 

Treads the crocus underfoot 
JT, like May-bloom on thorn-tree 
Thou, like merry summer bee ! 
Fit, that I be plucked for thee. 



MKS. BKOWNING, as is attested by every one of 
her works from which I have quoted, wrote 
not under the impulse of mere art-enthusiasm, but in 
the expression of emotions and convictions intensely 
her own. It was natural for such a poet that the 
great agitations of her time should draw responses 
from her heart, and that, when she sympathised with 
any movement for the bettering of mankind, and the 
vanquishing of wrong, she should make her voice 
heard in tones of thrilling melody above the clamours 
of the conflict. 

In the poem entitled The Runaway Slave at 
Pilgrim's Point, she tells, in her own rapid, ve- 
hement, suggestive manner, a tale of infinite cruelty 
and wrong inflicted upon a woman slave. The piece 
is thrown into the form of a monologue, the injured 
slave being the narrator of her own sorrows. She 
finds in her black colour an inevitable and terrible 
curse, and wonders why, since the dark bird sings 
merrily in the wood, and the darkest night is passed 

The Runaway Slave. 49 

over by the sweetest stars, black human creatures 
should seem so God-forsaken. 

Indeed we live beneath the sky, 

That great smooth Hand of God stretched out 
On all His children fatherly 

To save them from the dread and doubt 
Which would be, if, from this low place, 
All opened straight up to His face 

Into the grand eternity. 

And still God's sunshine and His frost, 
They make us hot, they make us cold, 

As if we were not black and lost : 

And the beasts and birds, in wood and fold 

Do fear and take us for very men ! 

Could the weep -poor- will or the cat of the glen 
Look into my eyes and be bold ? 

But though the blue sky was above her head, "like 
God's great pity," yet, when she and the slave youth 
whom she loved prayed to God, no dew of blessing 
had descended on them. 

I look on the sky and the sea, 

We were two to love, and two to pray, 

Yes, two, O God, who cried to Thee, 
Though nothing didst Thou say. 

Coldly Thou sat'st behind the sun ! 

And now I cry who am but one, 
How wilt Thou speak to-day ? 

They two were black. They " had no claim to love 
and bliss." The oppressors "wrung" her cold hand 
out of his. 

They dragged him where ? I crawled to touch 
His blood's mark in the dust ! 


50 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

To the murder of her lover " a deeper wrong " was 

Mere grief's too good for such as I, 

So the white men brought the shame, ere long 
To strangle the sob of my agony. 

She had a child. Its whiteness pained her. When 
she glanced on its face she saw a look that made her 

The master's look, that used to fall 
On my soul like his lash, or worse. 

In her madness she was prompted to curse it ; 4o 
save it from her curse, she strangled it. She wandered 
in the forest till her madness passed away, and then 
the pursuers came upon her. 

I am not mad : I am black. 

I see you staring in my face 
I know you staring, shrinking back 

Ye are born of the Washington-race : 
And this land is the free America : 
And this mark on my wrist (I prove what I say) 

Ropes tied me up here to the flogging-place. 

She dies cursing the white men in her " broken 
heart's disdain," after calling the slaves to rise and end 
what she has begun. This is an appalling story, 
almost too haggard and hideous in its details for art, 
but not too strongly coloured for reality, and not, I 
think, open to legitimate objection as a contribution to 
the literature of slave emancipation. If the anger 
of the world is to be invoked against a wrong, 
especially when that wrong is so ancient and so 
firmly buttressed about by interests as was American 

The Cry of the Children. 51 

slavery, its features must be portrayed in all their 

I am not prepared to say that there is enough of 
intrinsic beauty, music, and power in this terrible 
poem to ensure its long outliving the baneful system 
which it did its part to overthrow / but there is 
j nothing from Mrs. Browning's pen more inspired in its 
* melody, or more glorious in its tragic beauty and 
pathos, more instinct with what Mr. Buskin calls 
the stuff of immortality, than that to which I next 
call the reader's attention. I refer to the celebrated 
piece in which she lent her advocacy to the cause of 
the young creatures worn to an untimely death in 
, English factories. The Cry of the Children is as sure 
i to live as Hood's Song of the Shirt or Bridge of Sighs. 
J It is composed in stanzas twelve lines long, each of 
them coming like a great wave of rhythmic sound, 

burdened with meaning and appeal, and breaking with 

) a power that must shake the flintiest heart. In the 
) first of them we feel that Mrs. Browning is in her 
highest mood, like that of Deborah when she called 
upon Israel, or that of the Delphic priestess when the 
temple rang with the clamorous earnestness of her 
message. \ 

Do ye heaj4he children weeping, O my brothers, 

Ere the sorrow conies with years ? 
They are leaning their young heads against their mothers, 

And that cannot stop their tears. 
The young lambs are bleating in the meadows, 

The young birds are chirping in the nest, 
The young fawns are playing with the shadows, 

The young flowers are blowing towards the west 


52 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

But the young, young children, O my brothers, 

They are weeping bitterly ! 
They are weeping in the playtime of the others, 

In the country of the free. 

They look up " with their pale and sunken faces," 
and the anguish of hoary age " draws and presses 
down the cheeks of infancy." They have taken but 
few steps on the earth, yet they are already weary, 
and their "grave-rest" is far to seek. They some- 
times, indeed, die when still children ; hut why, they 
ask, should they wish to live ? When " little Alice '' 
died, they looked into the pit in which she was laid, 
and saw no room in it for work. None would cry to 
her, as she slept in that bed, " Get up, little Alice ! it 
is day." If they saw her, they would not know her, 
for she has been long enough away from work to 
let a smile grow upon her face. " It is good when it 
happens," say the children, "that we die before 
our time." In vain you call them into the fields to 

" For oh," say the children, " we are weary, 

And we cannot run or leap 
If we cared for any meadows, it were merely 

To drop down in them and sleep. 
Our knees tremble sorely in the stooping 

We fall upon our faces trying to go ; 
And, underneath our heavy eyelids drooping, 

The reddest flower would look as pale as snow. 
For all day we drag our burden tiring 

Through the coal-dark underground 
Or, all day, we drive the wheels of iron 

In the factories round and round. 

The Cry of the Children. 53 

" For, all day the wheels are droning, turning 

Their wind comes in our faces 
Till our hearts turn our heads, with pulses burning, 

And the walls turn in their places 
Turns the sky in the high window blank and reeling 

Turns the long light that drops adown the wall 
Turn the black flies that crawl along the ceiling 

All are turning, all the day, and we with all 
And all day the iron wheels are droning ; 

And sometimes we could pray, 
' O ye wheels ' (breaking out in a mad moaning) 

Stop ! be silent for to-day ! ' " 

Vain, also, is it to tell the children to pray. The 
metallic motion and clang around them make their 
voices inaudible to the men who are near them, and 
how could God hear? Two words only they re- 
member in the nature of prayer, and these " Our 
Father " they utter at midnight as a charm. Mrs. 
Browning informs us in a footnote that this was an 
historical fact. If God heard the words, He would 
surely, think the little ones, send them some assuage* 
ment of their anguish. 

" But no ! " say the children, weeping faster, 

" He is speechless as a stone ; 
And they tell us of His image is the master 

Who commands us to work on." 
" Go to ! " say the children, "up in heaven, 

Dark, wheel-like, turning clouds are all we find. 
Do not mock us ; grief has made us unbelieving 

We look up for God, but tears have made us blind." 
Do you hear the children weeping and disproving, 

O my brothers, what ye preach ? 
For God's possible is taught by His world's loving 

And the children doubt of each. 

It is some consolation, after reading these terrible 

54 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

lines, to know that, in this case also, Mrs. Browning's 
words were not thrown away, and that the imperious 
cry of England's relenting heart quelled and over- 
came that false and remorseless logic false because 
inhuman which would deliver over children to 
the taskmaster, secure that mere considerations of 
the taskmaster's interest would sufficiently protect 


WITH a sense of relief, however, we turn from 
these melancholy strains to such bright poetic 
pencillings as A Child Asleep, The Sea-Mew, and To 
Flush, My Dog. In all of these there is an undertone 
of pathos, but no more than suffices to give tone and 
modulation to their delicate mirthfulness. The 
sleeping child is a subject that has often been 
attempted both in sculpture and in painting. No 
hand has touched it with more tender felicity than 
Mrs. Browning's. 

How he sleepeth ; having drunken 

Weary childhood's mandragore ! 

From his pretty eyes have sunken 

Pleasures to make room for more 
Sleeping near the wither'd nosegay which he pulled the day before. 

Nosegays ! leave them for the waking : 
Throw them earthward where they grew. 

Dim are such beside the breaking 

Amaranths he looks unto 
Folded eyes see brighter colours than the open ever do. 

Heaven-flowers, rayed by shadows golden 

From the palms they sprang beneath, 
Now perhaps divinely holden, 

Swing against him in a wreath 

We may think so from the quickening of his bloom and of his 

56 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

The light and joyful spirit of the verses seems to 
be associated rather with fancy than with earnest 
imagination, but fancy attains to something of 
solemnity and sacredness when it takes such flights as 
we have in the two verses that follow. 

Softly, softly ! make no noises ! 

Now he lieth dead and dumb 
Now he hears the angels' voices 
Folding silence in the room 

Now he muses deep the meaning of the Heaven-words as they 

Speak not ! He is consecrated 

Breathe no breath across his eyes. 
Lifted up and separated 

On the hand of God he lies, 
In a sweetness beyond touching, held in cloistral sanctities. 

The Sea-Mew is one of the most perfect in form of 
Mrs. Browning's productions. It is a brief ballad- 
lyric narrating how the young sea-mew lay dreaming 
on the waves, " and throbbing to the throbbing sea," 
how he was carried to a garden, and how he died 
there. I quote three of the verses. 

We were not cruel, yet did sunder 

His white wing from the blue waves under, 

And bound it, while his fearless eyes 

Shone up to ours in calm surprise, 
As deeming us some ocean wonder ! 

We bore our ocean bird unto 

A grassy place, where he might view 

The flowers that curtsey to the bees, 

The waving of the tall green trees, 
The falling of the silver dew. 

Flush. 57 

But flowers of earth were pale to him 
Who had seen the rainbow fishes swim ; 
And when earth's dew around him lay, 
He thought of ocean's winged spray, 
And his eye waxed sad and dim. 

With the human touch the human agony passed 
upon him, and looking up to the waveless sky of blue 
he died. 

Flush, a dog presented to Mrs. Browning by her 
friend, Miss Mitford, was her faithful attendant in the 
sick-room during a long illness. It belonged, Mrs. 
Browning tells us in a footnote, to a beautiful race of 
dogs, rendered famous by Miss Mitford in England 
and America. " The Flushes," she adds, " have their 
laurels as well as the Caesars, the chief difference (at 
least the very head and front of it) consisting, perhaps, 
in the bald head of the latter under the crown." The 
picture of her own Flush places the dog visibly 
before us. 

Like a lady's ringlets brown, 
Flow thy silken ears adown 

Either side demurely 
Of thy silver-suited breast, 
Shining out from all the rest 

Of thy body purely. 

Darkly brown thy body is, 
Till the sunshine striking this 

Alchemise its dulness, 
When the sleek curls manifold 
Flash all over into gold 

With a burnished fulness. 

58 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

Underneath my stroking hand, 
Startled eyes of hazel bland 

Kindling, growing larger, 
Up thou leapest with a spring, 
Full of prank and curveting, 

Leaping like a charger. 

Leap ! thy broad tail waves a light ; 
Leap ! thy slender feet are bright, 

Canopied in fringes. 
Leap those tasselled ears of thine 
Flicker strangely, fair and fine, 

Down their golden inches. 

These are admirably graphic lines, worthy of being 
set beside those in which Burns commemorates his 
"friend and comrade" Luath. But the climax of 
interest, beauty, and pathos is not reached until the 
poet describes the service rendered by Flush in her 

Other dogs may be thy peers 

Haply in these drooping ears, 

And this glossy fairness. 

But of thee it shall be said, 
This dog watched beside a bed 

Day and night unweary, 
Watched within a curtained room, 
Where no sunbeam brake the gloom 

Bound the sick and dreary. 

Other dogs in thymy dew 

Tracked the hares and followed through 

Sunny moor or meadow 
This dog only crept and crept 
Next a languid cheek that slept, 

Sharing in the shadow. 

Flush. 59 

And this dog was satisfied 

If a pale thin hand would glide 

Down his dew-laps sloping, 
Which he pushed his nose within, 
After, platforming his chin 

On the palm left open. 

Among the dogs of literature, Flush will have a 
place of honour till the English language is forgotten. 
In the long illness of the poet, which originated in 
the rupture of a blood-vessel in her lungs, and was 
brought to a dangerous crisis at Torquay by the 
drowning of her favourite brother, whose boat was 
upset before her eyes, Flush contributed more perhaps 
than Plato and ^Eschylus, whose works would be thrust 
beneath the pillow to escape the prying glance of her 
physician, to cheer her spirits and restore her health. 


IF Mrs. Browning's intelligent readers were asked 
to name her most characteristic poem, they would 
probably fix upon Lady Geraldine's Courtship. The 
choice would lie between that and The Duchess May. 
The finest wine of her genius, the intensest elixir of 
her poetic sympathy, the very essence of her womanly 
pride, and not less of her womanly ecstasy of self- 
surrendering humility, as well as her most original 
imagery, puissant thought, and splendid language, are 
present in both poems. I should not, for my own 
part, undertake to say which of the two is the more 
characteristic; but I should pronounce it impossible 
for any one to have a right insight into these two 
without possessing a fairly accurate idea of the dis- 
tinctive character of her genius. 

Lady Geraldine's Courtship belongs to the same class 
of poems as Locksley Hall. It is a story of love, and 
its love-story is delineated in connection with certain 

1 social truths or doctrines which the poet intends to 
teach. Of these doctrines little is expressly said, 

Lady Geraldine's Courtship. 61 

but it is nevertheless from the bearing of the poems 
upon them that their chief significance is derived. 
Lady Geraldine's Courtship and Locksley Hall are 
profoundly democratic in spirit. They belong to the 
period when the atmosphere of our island was still 
tingling with the Eeform Bill agitation ; when the 
hope and aspiration of ardent spirits were stirred with 
visions of class reconciled to class ; of high and low, 
rich and poor, warming towards each other in the 
glow of a common brotherhood; of all distinctions 
being effaced except those between honest men and 
knaves, between base men and honourable. " Cursed," 
says Tennyson in Locksley Hall, " be the social lies 
that warp us from the living truth ; " " cursed be the 
gold that gilds the straitened forehead of the fool." 
Love, asserting its God-given power and right to make 
two hearts happy, and to make their love, united in 
marriage, a fountain of home-happiness for many, is 
in that poem baffled by worldly pride. In Lady 
Geraldine's Courtship the same doctrine of the right 
divine of love to set its foot on the neck of pride is 
poetically preached in Mrs. Browning's manner. Let 
us read, to begin with, her sketch of the personages 
who are the sole actors in the tale, no other persons 
being so much as named, although the shadowy 
presence of some others is indicated. 

There's a lady an Earl's daughter, she is proud and she is noble, 
And she treads the crimson carpet, and she breathes the per- 
fumed air, 

And a kingly blood sends glances up her princely eye to trouble, 
And the shadow of a monarch's crown is softened in her hair. 

62 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

She has halls among the woodlands, she has castles by the breakers, 
She has farms and she has manors, she can threaten and com- 

And the palpitating engines snort in steam across her acres, 
As they mark upon the blasted heaven the measure of the land. 

There are none of England's daughters who can show a prouder 

presence ; 

Upon princely suitors praying she has looked in her disdain : 
She was sprung of English nobles, I was born of English peasants ; 
What was I that I should love her save for competence to 

I was only a poor poet, made for singing at her casement, 

As the finches or the thrushes, while she thought of other things. 

Oh, she walked so high above me, she appeared to my abasement, 
In her lovely silken murmur, like an angel clad in wings ! 

These words purport to be part of a letter addressed 
by the poet, Bertram, to his "friend and fellow- 
student." He proceeds with his description of the 
lady, and at last names her. 

Many vassals bow before her as her carriage sweeps their doorways ; 

She has blest their little children, as a priest or queen were she ! 
Far too tender, or too cruel far, her smile upon the poor was, 

For I thought it was the same smile which she used to smile 
on me. 

She has voters in the Commons, she has lovers in' the palace 
And of all the fair Court-ladies, few hath jewels half as fine : 

Oft the prince has named her beauty 'twixt the red wine and the 

chalice : 
Oh, and what was Jto love her ? my beloved, my Geraldine ! 

Being a poet, however, he " could not choose but 
love her," since poets are born to love all things set 
above them, all things good and fair, and the Muses 
are nymphs of the mountain, not of the valley. As a 
well-reputed poet, he was admitted to rich men's 

Lady Geraldine's Courtship. 63 

tables, but even the courtesies he experienced made 
him feel the distance that separated him from his 
patrons. They talked of their moors, whispering now 
and then in insolently condescending terms of their 
plebeian guest. 

Quite low-born ! self-educated! somewhat gifted though by Nature, 

And we make a point of asking him, of being very kind : 
You may speak, he does not hear you ; and, besides, he writes no 


All these serpents kept by charmers leave their natural sting 

The scorn of these worldlings he encountered with 
equal scorn, and might have repaid it in glance or 
word, if Lady Geraldine had not suddenly stepped into 
the circle and invited him to Wycombe Hall, her 
mansion in Sussex. This invitation he accepted. 
Results followed. 

Oh, the blessed woods of Sussex, I can hear them still around me, 
With their leafy tide of greenery still rippling up the wind ! 

Oh, the cursed woods of Sussex ! where the hunter's arrow found 

When a fair face and a tender voice had made me mad and blind ! 

The second of these lines is exceedingly fine; 
but, on the whole, they recall too vividly the 
change that passed on the moorland and the 
shore " Oh, the dreary, dreary moorland ! Oh, the 
barren, barren shore ! " when Amy, in Locksley 
Hall, became unkind. The parallel is by no means 
exact, yet the suggestion of Tennyson's passage is 

64 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

A few stanzas further on, we meet with another 
Tennysonian parallel. Bertram describes Geraldine 
as he saw her when first her beauty compelled him to 

Thus, her foot upon the new-mown grass bareheaded with the 

Of the virginal white vesture gathered closely to her throat, 
With the golden ringlets in her neck just quickened by her going, 

And appearing to breathe sun for air and doubting if to float, 
With a branch of dewy maple, which her Tight hand held above her, 

And which trembled a green shadow in betwixt her and the 

As she turned her face in going, thus, she drew me on to love her, 

And to worship the divineness of the smile hid in her eyes. 

The lines in Tennyson, of which these remind me, 
occur in The Gardener's Daughter. 

He cried, " Look ! look ! " Before he ceased I turned, 
And, ere a star can wink, beheld her there. 
For up the porch there grew an Eastern rose, 
That, flowering high, the last night's gale had caught, 
And blown across the walk. One arm aloft- 
Gowned in pure white, that fitted to the shape 
Holding the bush, to fix it back, she stood. 
A single stream of all her soft brown hair 
Pour'd on one side : the shadow of the flowers 
Stole all the golden gloss, and, wavering 
Lovingly lower, trembled on her waist 
Ah, happy shade and still went wavering down, 
But, ere it touched a foot that might have danced 
The green sward into greener circles, dipt, 
And mixed with shadows of the common ground ! 
But the full day dwelt on her brows, and sunn'd 
Her violet eyes, and all her Hebe bloom, ' 
And doubled his own warmth against her lips, 
And on the bounteous wave of such a breast 
As never pencil drew. Half light, half shade, 
She stood, a sight to make an old man young. 

Symbol and Substance. 65 

Is it a mere trick of the associative faculty which 
connects these two passages Mrs. Browning's and 
Tennyson's? I should not allege that Mrs. Browning 
was conscious of imitating; and the passages might 
be cited to illustrate the difference in the literary 
execution of the two poets : Tennyson minute, patient, 
copious in detail, laying on touch after touch with 
the calmness of a painter in his studio, Mrs. Brown- 
ing giving comparatively few touches, and throwing 
these upon the canvas with impetuous, hurrying 
speed. Nevertheless, the decisive feature in both 
descriptions is the branch held in the hand of the 
lady ; and I cannot help thinking that, whether Mrs. 
Browning knew it or not, the maple branch was held 
aloft by Geraldine, because the rose branch had been 
held aloft by Alice. 

Lady Geraldine frequently favoured Bertram with 
her conversation, and their talk was apt to turn on 
high themes, such as the relation of "symbols" to their 
"essential meaning." They were evidently disposed 
to agree with the author of Sartor Eesartus, that the 
truth embodied in symbols by the men of old has in 
our time outgrown, in various instances, the embody- 
ing sign. Bertram, a poet of Eadical tendencies, 
thinks that we have too much symbol, more of 
symbol than of substance. Geraldine admits that, 
wherever you go in these British Islands, you find 
names for things, shows for actions, money pass- 
ing itself off for human worth ; but she will not grant , 
that all has, as yet, " run to symbol." Were that the 


66 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

case, the world would be a book not worth reading, 
which she would toss aside. Talk like this, more in- 
structive than exhilarating, was diversified by lighter 

Sometimes on the hillside, while we sate down in the gowans, 
With the forest green behind us, and its shadow cast before, 

And the river running under, and across it from the rowans 

A brown partridge whirring near us till we felt the air it bore, 

There, obedient to her praying, did I read aloud the poems 

Made to Tuscan flutes, or instruments more various of our own ; 

Bead the pastoral parts of Spenser or the subtle interflowings 
Found in Petrarch's sonnets here's the book the leaf is folded 
down ! 

Or at times a modern volume, Wordsworth's solemn-thoughted 


Hewitt's ballad-verse, or Tennyson's enchanted reverie, 
Or from Browning some " Pomegranate," which, if cut deep down 

the middle, 
Shows a heart within blood-tinctured, of a veined humanity ! 

He describes her talk, which was gravely gay and 
sportively earnest, the root striking deep into sense 
and meaning, as if "to justify the foliage and the 
waving flowers above." She was inclined to agree 
with Bertram that we people of the nineteenth 
century, with our science and our engines, think 
too much of ourselves, and fancy that we are more 
in advance of our fathers than may really be the case. 
Four noble stanzas occur here, noble at once in 
thought and imagination, on which a long essay 
might be written without exhausting their wealth of 

The Age. 67 

And her custom was to praise me when I said, The age culls 

With a broad clown's back turned broadly to the glory of the 

We are gods by our own reck'ning, and may well shut up the 

And wield on, amid the incense-steam, the thunder of our cars. 

For we throw out acclamations of self-thanking, self-admiring, 
With, at every mile run faster, " O the wondrous, wondrous age ! " 

Little thinking if we work our SOULS as nobly as our iron, 
Or if angels will commend us at the goal of pilgrimage. 

Why, what is this patient entrance into Nature's deep resources, 
But the child's most gradual learning to walk upright without 

bane ? 
When we drive out, from the cloud of steam, majestical white 


Are we greater than the first men who led black ones by the 
mane ? 

If we trod the deeps of ocean, if we struck the stars in rising, 
If we wrapped the globe intensely with one hot electric breath, 

'Twere but power within our tether no new spirit-power com- 
And in life we were not greater men, nor bolder men in death. 

A grand thought, and as true as it is grand ! The 
scientific achievement of our time, magnificent as it 
has been in its own field, must, if it is to be of the 
highest value, be but a prelude to those spiritual 
searchings which alone are distinctive of mankind. 
In the cultivation of those physical sciences whose 
aim and end is to increase the convenience of life, to 
supply the wants of the body and exercise the faculties 
of the brain, we do nothing different in kind, though 
of course immensely different in degree, from what the 
chaffinch does in building its nest. Our "tether " is 


68 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

longer than the chaffinch's, but if we know nothing 
except what physical science reveals to us, we have no 
" spirit-power," and are no nearer the Eternal and the 
Divine. Mrs. Browning clearly agrees with Tenny- 
son that physical science, be its contributions to our 
bodily service what they may, cannot satisfy the spirit 
of man ; and the experience of our age, which, with 
all its engines and all its luxuries, speaking across 
oceans and piercing mountains, is infinitely sad, 
appears to confirm this view of the case. Atheism 
now loudly proclaims itself a doctrine of despair. 
Shelley's dawn-dream of a happy earth, the "reality 
of heaven," has been succeeded by the clamorous 
anguish that announces our world as the reality of hell. 
Bertram loved Geraldine, but did not permit himself 
to believe that he did so with any " idiot hope " of ever 
possessing her. The stag, however, vainly tries to go 
on grazing with a great gun- wound in his throat. It 
"reels with sudden moan." So did Bertram. What 
brought matters to a crisis was that he happened, 
being forced to it by circumstances, to overhear a 
haughty nobleman make a proposal of marriage to the 
lady. She receives the suitor with coldness, but, in 
repelling him, says something which stings Bertram 
to madness. He whom she marries shall, she declares, 
be noble and rich, and she will " never blush to think 
how he was born." In other words, interprets the 
agitated Bertram, she will marry no plebeian, she can 
respect only rank and wealth, and as I have neither 
purse nor pedigree, she scorns to look at me. " Mad " 

Bertram and Geraldine. 69 

or "inspired" by this persuasion he gives us leave 
to choose which of these epithets we think most 
appropriate to his state of mind, and I unhesitatingly 
choose the former he dashed into the lady's pre- 
sence and made a few observations. In the course of 
these, he "plucked up her social fictions " and " trod 
them down with words of shaming." A sample of 
what he said is included in the letter to his friend 
and fellow-student. 

" For myself I do not argue," said I, " though I love you, madam, 
But for better souls that nearer to the height of yours have 

And this age shows, to my thinking, still more infidels to Adam, 
Than directly, by profession, simple infidels to God. 

" Learn more reverence, madam, not for rank or wealth that 

needs no learning ! 
That comes quickly quick as sin does ! ay, and culminates in 

sin ; 
But for Adam's seed, MAN ! Trust me, 'tis a clay above your 


With God's image stamped upon it, and God's kindly breath 

" Have you any answer, madam? Irmy spirit were less earthy 
If its instrument were gifted with a better silver string 

I would kneel down where I stand, and say Behold me ! I am 

Of thy loving, for I love thee ! I am worthy as a king. 

"As it is your ermined pride, I swear, shall feel this stain upon 

That I, poor, weak, tost with passion, scorned by me and you 

Love you, madam dare to love you to my grief and your dis- 

To my endless desolation, and your impotent disdain ! " 


70 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

At last he stopped. She looked up, with wonder 
and tears in her eyes, and said only " Bertram ! " 
Thereupon he fainted, and when he came to himself 
he was in his own room, and sought relief to his 
feelings by expressing them in the letter into which 
we have been looking. That finished, Mrs. Browning 
herself takes up the tale. 

As Bertram leant backward in his chair, his lips 
still quivering with love and grief, he became aware 
of a vision of a lady, first standing silent between 
the purple lattice-curtains, then gradually approaching 
him. The form, the features, the eye, the brow, the 
lip were Geraldine's, but he could not believe that 
they were corporeal. 

Said he "Wake me by no gesture, sound of breath or stir of 

gesture ; 

Let the blessed apparition melt not yet to its divine ! 
No approaching hush ! no breathing ! or my heart must swoon to 

death in 
The too utter life thou bringest thou dream of Geraldine ! " 

Ever, evermore the while in a slow silence she kept smiling 
But the tears ran over lightly from her eyes, and tenderly ; 

" Dost thou, Bertram, truly love me ? Is no woman far above me 
Found more worthy of thy poet-heart than such a one as I? " 


Softened, quickened to adore her, on his knees he fell before her, 
And she whispered low in triumph "It shall be as I have 

Very rich he is in virtues, very noble, noble, certes ; 
And I shall not blush in knowing that men call him lowly born." 

These lovers were presumably married, and we are 
free to suppose that they lived happily ever after; 

A Poetical Marriage. 71 

but, if they did, Bertram must have been a very true 
poet indeed, and Lady Geraldine an uncommonly sen- 
sible woman. The piece, however, is not to be tried 
by prosaic rules. It is poetry, and not prose. You do 
not expect the cloud-flocks of the West Wind, that 
look so beautiful on the blue fields of the sky, to yield 
you woollen coats and saddle of mutton. Lady 
Geraldine' s Courtship is steeped in melody, the 
language, the imagery, the sentiment, the thought, 
all instinct with music, floating and flowing and 
rippling along in an element of liquid harmony and 
modulated brilliance. 


WHILE declining to adjudicate between master- 
pieces, I confess that the poem which most 
closely connects itself with Mrs. Browning in my 
own mind the poem on which my imagination 
dwells most wonderingly, and to which my heart 
clings most fondly is The Rhyme of the Duchess 
May. Its blemishes are mere motes in the sunlight 
of its general power. Its artistic unity and com- 
pleteness are not less remarkable than its strong 
drawing and vivid local colour. In this, as in other 
instances, the critic of Mrs. Browning is called to dis- 
criminate between two things : the realistic basis, and 
the imaginative form. No poet deals more realistically 
with passion than Mrs. Browning, she feels and gives 
its living throb with the penetrating vehemence, the 
fiery tenderness of Burns ; but the imaginative drapery 
in which she clothes her conceptions is apt to be loose- 
flowing and gorgeous as mist kindled by lightnings and 
rent by storms. In the Duchess May the passion of 
wifely devotion is shown in its intensest yet most real 

The Duchess May. 73 

fervour, triumphing in death, triumphing over death ; 
but the imaginative form and covering in which this 
central passion is wrapped may be held to be some- 
what wildly romantic. 

The poem opens with the description of a country 
churchyard, in which the bell tolls slowly for the dead. 
Six willow trees grow on its north side, their shadows, 
as they rock solemnly in the wind, slanting across the 
graves. On the south and the west runs a small river, 
and through the willow branches you see hills, whence 
the river comes out of the distance. The poet sits amid 
the stillness of the graves, broken only by the knelling 
of the death-bell and the low voices of tree and river, 
and reads the " ancient rhyme," the " tale of life and 
sin," which follows. The effect of the tolling of the 
bell is aimed at by iteration, in each triplet, of the 
words, " Toll slowly." 

We are at once hurried into the main current of 
interest. The Castle of Linteged rises suddenly before 
us, built from nothing by the wand of the poetical 

Down the sun dropt large and red, on the towers of Linteged, 

Toll slowly. 
Lance and spear upon the height, bristling strange in fiery light, 

While the castle stood in shade. 
There the castle stood up black, with the red sun at its back, 

ToU slowly. 
Like a sullen smouldering pyre, with a top that flickers fire, 

When the wind is on its track. 

That crimson background, with the tower cut out 
black against it, gives tone to the whole picture about 

74 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

to be unfolded. Not the pencil of Tintoret, not the 
pen of Dante, ever struck a truer note of imaginative 

The Duchess May was the ward of her uncle, the 
old Earl of Leigh, who betrothed her in her childhood, 
for the sake of her gold, to his son, Lord Leigh. On 
coming of age she disliked the young lord, haughtily 
defied both him and his father, and bestowed her hand 
upon Sir Guy of Linteged. After the marriage the 
bridal train, pursued by the Leighs, rode off at mid- 
night, through storm and rain, for the Castle of 

And the bridegroom led the flight on his red-roan steed of might, 

Toll slowly. 
And the bride lay on his arm, still, as if she felt no harm, 

Smiling out into the night. 

These lines suggest the contrast of passion which, 
in its essential unity, delineates and defines the 
personality of the lady : defiance of kindred, scorn of 
all terrors of midnight and storm, dauntless courage 
and inflexible pride, where love is to be fought for 
and vindicated perfect rest, submission, confidence, 
halcyon repose, as of a sea-bird on its native wave, as 
of a child on the breast of its mother, in the encircling 
arms of love accepted and returned. 

Sir Guy and his wife reach the castle in safety, and 
for three months the very elixir of happiness is theirs. 
Then Lord Leigh the rejected suitor advances with 
an overpowering force, and, after a fortnight's siege, 
the castle is about to fall into his hands. Sordid and 

The Duchess May. 75 

implacable, he will wed his betrothed, whether she 
loves him or hates him, and though he must reach her 
across the corpse of her present husband. In this she 
is resolved, through life and death, to foil him. Attired 
in purple robes, her ducal coronet on her brow, she 
looks down upon him from the wall, smiting him with 
her scorn. 

Meanwhile Sir Guy has been superintending opera- 
tions in the east tower, the highest of all. He sees 
that there is no hope, and, bethinking him that he 
alone stands between his wife and followers and safety, 
determines to put an end to his life. The Duchess 
May, he is content to think, though loving him truly, 
will get over her distress, soothed and well-entreated 
by his victorious foes, and will make shift with Lord 
Leigh after all. Is she not a woman ? 

She will weep her woman's tears, she will pray her woman's 

Toll slowly; 
But her heart is young in pain, and her hopes will spring again 

By the sun time of her years. 

He binds his men by oath not to strike a blow that 
night. He then demands of his two faithfullest knights 
that, as a last service, they will lead the good steed, 
ridden by him in that unforgotten night-journey, up 
the turret-stair to the top of the east tower. His pur- 
pose is to mount the horse, make it leap from the wall, 
and thus to die on his war-steed. But the Duchess May 
has a heart as strong and proud as his. She will show 
her husband what lightnings may lurk amid the soft- 

76 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

ness of a woman's tears. As the knights are goading 
the horse up the stair, she comes from her chamber 
and inquires into their errand. They tell her that, in 
an hour, the breach will be complete, and that her 
lord, wild with despair, is about to leap from the 
castle-wall. For a moment the sweetness of love past 
and the bitterness of present anguish overcome her : she 
bows her head, and tear after tear is heard falling on the 
ground. The knights, good-hearted but not gentle with 
the gentleness of chivalry, rudely assay to comfort her. 

Get thee in, thou soft ladye ! here is never a place for thee ! 

ToU slowly. 
Braid thy hair and clasp thy gown, that thy beauty in its moan 

May find grace with Leigh of Leigh. 

But her tears have fallen. She is herself again. 
Love's pride has set its iron heel on love's tenderness. 

She stood up in bitter case, with a pale yet steady face, 

Toll slowly, 

Like a statue thunderstruck, which, though quivering, seemed to 

Eight against the thunder-place. 

She takes from the knights the rein of the horse. 
He now needs no goading. 

Soft he neighed to answer her, and then followed up the stair, 

For the love of her sweet look. 

On the east tower, high'st of all there where never a hoof did 

Toll slowly, 
Out they swept, a vision steady, noble steed and lovely lady, 

Calm as if in bower or stall. 

The wife has said in her heart that, if her husband 
leaps from the castle-wall, she will leap also. He 

The Leap. 77 

endeavours, with, frantic earnestness, to urge the horse 
over alone, but she will not quit her hold, and entreats 
him to take her with him. The breach falls in as she 
pleads, and the crash of wall and window, the shouts 
of foemen and the shrieks of the dying, rise in one roar 
around the pair. Then love prevails. In vain does 
Sir Guy wrench her small hands twice and thrice in 
twain. She clings to him as in a swoon of agonised 
determination. At last, when the horse, rearing on 
the edge of the precipitous battlement, could no longer 
be stopped, " she upsprang, she rose upright," she 
took her seat beside her husband. 

And her head was on his breast, where she smiled as one at rest, 

Toll slowly. 

" Ring, " she cried, " O vesper bell, in the beechwood's old 
chapelle ! 

But the passing bell rings best." 

They have caught out at the rein, which Sir Guy threw loose in 

Toll slowly. 
For the horse in stark despair, with his front hoofs poised in air, 

On the last verge rears amain. 
Now he hangs the rocks between and his nostrils curdle in, 

Toll slowly, 
Now he shivers head and hoof and the flakes of foam fall off ; 

And his face grows fierce and thin ! 
And a look of human woe from his staring eyes did go, 

Toll slowly ; 
And a sharp cry uttered he, in a foretold agony 

Of the headlong death below. 

And, "Ring, ring, thou passing bell," still she cried, "i' the old 

Toll slowly. 

Then back-toppling, crashing back, a dead-weight flung out to 

Horse and riders overfell. 

78 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

No sterner realism than we have in this description 
is possible. The horse is frightfully, yet literally, true 
to life. Mrs. Browning once more proves that it is 
on the rugged crags of reality that imagination preens 
her wings for flight into the ideal. The human passion 
described is also, doubt it not, true to fact : Mrs. 
Browning's heart sympathetically thrilled with it, as 
she lit that smile on the face of the bride, sinking into 
the abyss of death in her husband's arms : with all 
her gentleness, Mrs. Browning could have smiled that 
smile, and leaped from that wall ! Woman's love can 
make of the chariot of death a car of victory ; amid 
the flames of the funeral pyre it can find the softest 

The Duchess May is one of the most admirably 
drawn figures that ever came from the pencil of art. 
Every line is so definite, yet so delicate in its curva- 
ture ; every tint so clear and warm, yet so soft in its 
blending, so fine in its gradation. Her external 
attributes her haughtiness, her beauty, her queen- 
liness of mien and manner, are touched in with the 
airy vividness of Scott : her inmost heart is laid 
bare, her womanly tenderness, unfathomable as the 
blue wells of the sky, her womanly pride, her womanly 
ecstasy of self-sacrifice, with, I speak deliberately, 
the power of a Shakespeare. In some respects she 
reminds one of Scott's Die Vernon, in some of 
Charlotte Bronte's Shirley. Had the Duchess May 
been the heroine of a three- volume novel, Shirley 
might indeed have played her part indifferently well, 

Peace at Last. 79 

though some additional brightening, and softening, 
and warming some tones and touches from Dorothea 
Brooke, the loveliest of all George Eliot's female 
characters would have been required even by Char- 
lotte Bronte's glorious Yorkshire lass. In one word, 
the Duchess May must be ranked with the Juliets and 
Desdemonas, beyond any flight of Walter Scott or 
Charlotte Bronte, and perhaps not to be adequately 
portrayed in any novel or drama with a pleasant 
ending, but only where tragedy in sceptred pall 
sweeps by. 

The wild ancient Rhyme having sung itself out, we 
return to the calm of the churchyard, and are re- 
minded of a serenity enveloping and subduing all 
passion. The poet fixes her eye on a little grave 
beneath a willow tree, on which is engraved an in- 
scription stating that it is the grave of a child of 
three years. She draws, with rapid, vivid, graphic 
touches, suggesting rather than detailing, a con- 
trast between the passage of the child-soul to heaven, 
encompassed by star- wheels and angel wings, and 
the passionate dashing up of those frantic lovers 
against the thick-bossed shield of God's judgment. 

Now, your will is all unwilled now, your pulses are all stilled, 

Toll slowly. 
Now, ye lie as meek and mild (whereso laid) as Maud the child, 

Whose small grave was lately filled. 
Beating heart and burning brow, ye are very patient now, 

Toll slowly. 

And the children might be bold to pluck the king-cups from your 

Ere a month had let them grow. 

80 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

And so the poem ends in rest. The Rhyme, with 
its passion and its change, comes between the stillness 
before and after, like a meteor between two calm 
celestial spaces, leaving us in silent wonder at its 
artistic symmetry, its flawless unity, gazing up into 
the heavenly blue which overarches its volcanic 




AMONG rough-and-ready tests of greatness there 
is none, I think, more practically useful and 
trustworthy than that of width of range. The poet 
who has but one tune one niood of feeling one line 
of thought one kind of imagery one type of cha- 
racter even though excellent within his restricted 
field, will hardly be pronounced a supreme singer. 
The uniformity of Dante's temper ever intense, ever 
austere detracts from his greatness, and is perhaps 
the chief reason why, though unsurpassed in particular 
delineation or in sheer imaginative might, he is 
admittedly a less poet than Homer or Shakespeare. 
We have seen that Mrs. Browning embraces in her 
poetic range at least two well-marked and diverse 
moods of thought and sympathy. She is passionately 
addicted to romance, and loves the pageantry of fancy 
and imagination ; yet her tenderness, her capacity 
of interpreting, in fine sympathetic music, the simplest * 
joys of the heart and the home, is as notable as her . 


82 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

delight in those visions of the imagination in which 
romance verges on extravagance. By the tenderness 
of her genius she infused into the tale of Adam and 
Eve, and their expulsion from the Garden, a human 
interest that penetrates the heart far more thrillingly 
than the stately strain of Milton ; and, in her shorter 
poems, we perpetually come upon lines and stanzas 
imhued with that domestic sentiment, that home-bred 
feeling, at which some sneer, but of which others are 
justly proud, as a characteristic of English society. 
It is in the pure sincerity of her heart that she asks, 

What music certes can you find 
As soft as voices which are kind ? 

In the simply beautiful verses on the coronation and 
the wedding of Queen Victoria, she thus lays her 
poetical charge upon the bridegroom : 

And since, Prince Albert, men have called thy spirit high and rare, 
And true to truth and brave for truth as some at Augsburg were, 
We charge thee by thy lofty thoughts, and by thy poet-mind 
Which not by glory and degree takes measure of mankind, 
Esteem that wedded hand less dear for sceptre than for ring, 
And hold her uncrowned womanhood to be the royal thing. 

The verses on Napoleon are fine throughout, breath- 
ing a noble spirit of patriotism, which refuses to find 
satisfaction in the vengeance taken by England on a 
fallen foe ; but perhaps their finest stanza is that in 
which the poet, though sternly declining to pronounce 
a judgment generally favourable to Napoleon, yet 
discerns one thing that entitles him to honour. 

Poeni'S of Affection. 83 

I do not praise this man : the man was flawed 

For Adam much more, Christ ! his knee, unbent 

His hand, unclean his aspiration, pent 

Within a sword-sweep pshaw ! but since he had 

The genius to be loved, why, let him have 

The justice to be honoured in his grave. 

does not say very much not too much, at 
all events about her years of childhood ; but the 
glimpses we have of them are always bright and 
always tender. 

Nine green years had scarcely brought me 

To my childhood's haunted spring : 

I had life like flowers and bees 

In betwixt the country trees ; 
And the sun the pleasure taught me 

Which he teacheth everything. 

If the rain fell, there was sorrow ; 

Little head leant on the pane, 

Little finger drawing down it 

The long trailing drops upon it, 
And the " Eain, rain, come to-morrow," 

Said for charm against the rain. 

Is not that a life-like picture, touched in with the 
delicate accuracy of those wonderful old Dutchmen, 
the Mierises, Dows, Maases, and yet with something 
in it that reminds us of the sentiment of Edouard 
Frere ? Still lovelier is the following : 

I hear the birthday's noisy bliss, 

My sisters' woodland glee, 
My father's praise I did not miss, 
When stooping down he cared to kiss 

The poet at his knee. 

I cannot remember any passage in which she has. 


84 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

spoken of her childhood except in terms of deep 
though pensive joyfulness ; and the opening lines in 
A Rhapsody of Life's Progress may be looked upon as 
an authentic summing-up of its general impressions. 

We are born into life it is sweet, it is strange ! 
We lie still on the knee of a mild mystery, 

Which smiles with a change ! 

But we doubt not of changes, we know not of spaces, 
The heavens seem as near as our own mother's face is, 
And we think wo could touch all the stars that we see. 

Nor need we doubt that the affections formed in that 
early time retained their hold on her heart during life, 4 
and that it is her own feeling towards old friends 
that she expresses in this impassioned stanza from 

The least touch of their hands in the morning, I keep day and 

night ; 

Their least step on the stair still throbs through me, if ever so light ; 
Their least gift, which they left to my childhood in long ago years, 
Is now turned from a toy to a relic, and gazed at through tears. 

The Lines on Mrs. Hemans, those on L. E. L.'s Last 
Question, and those on Cowper's Grave, may be referred 
to as further illustrating Mrs. Browning's tender- 
ness ; but of these minor pieces, in none, perhaps, does 
she attain to so sweet a harmony of beauty and music 
as in that entitled The Sleep. In this poem and 
the remark may be applied to these smaller pieces 
generally the mannerism, which undeniably charac- 
terises her larger poems, falls almost wholly away, 
and she speaks in that common language which, if 

The Sleep. 85 

only the poet can use it, lays a mightier spell upon the 
heart than the most ingenious and surprising artifice. 
The poem to which she prefixes those infinitely beau- 
tiful words of the psalm, " He giveth His beloved, 
sleep," may be regarded as a hymn or paraphrase, 
founded on the Scriptural expression. All my pre- 
vious quotations from Mrs. Browning have been 
fragmentary, and, therefore, necessarily inadequate, if 
not unjust; for fragments cannot convey a just idea 
of the unity of the wholes from which they are taken. 
For this, if for no other reason, I shall quote the 
poem entire. 

Of all the thoughts of God that are 
Borne inward unto souls afar, 

Along the Psalmist's music deep, 
Now tell me if that any is, 
For gift or grace, surpassing this 

" He giveth His beloved, sleep " ? 

What would we give to our beloved ? 
The hero's heart, to be unmoved, 

The poet's star-tuned harp, to sweep, 
The patriot's voice, to teach and rouse, 
The monarch's crown, to light the brows ? 

"He giveth His beloved, sleep." 

What do we give to our beloved ? 
A little faith all undisproved, 

A little dust to overweep, 
And bitter memories to make 
The whole earth blasted for our sake. 

" He giveth His beloved, sleep." 

" Sleep soft, beloved ! " we sometimes say, 
But have no tune to charm away 

Sad dreams that through the eyelids creep ; 

86 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

But never doleful dream again 
Shall break the happy slumber when 
* He giveth His beloved, sleep." 

O earth, so full of dreary noises ! 
men, with wailing in your voices ! 
O delved gold, the wailers heap ! 

strife, O curse, that o'er it fall ! 
God strikes a silence through you all, 

And "giveth His beloved, sleep." 

His dews drop mutely on the hill, 
His cloud above it saileth still, 

Though on its slope men sow and reap. 
More softly than the dew is shed, 
Or cloud is floated overhead, 

" He giveth His beloved, sleep." 

Yea, men may wonder when they scan 
A living, thinking, feeling man 

Confirmed in such a rest to keep, 
But angels say and through the word 

1 think their happy smile is heard 
" He giveth His beloved, sleep." 

For me, my heart that erst did go 
Most like a tired child at a show, 

That sees through tears the jugglers leap, 
Would now its wearied vision close, 
Would childlike on His love repose, 

Who "giveth His beloved, sleep." 

And, friends, dear friends, when it shall be 
That this low breath is gone from me, 

And round my bier ye come to weep, 
Let one, most loving of you all, 
Say, " Not a tear must o'er her fall 

He giveth His beloved, sleep." 


WE saw from a couple of lines in Lady 
Geraldine's Courtship, that the poetical genius 
of Robert Browning had made a deep impression upon 
Elizabeth Barrett Barrett. Whether those lines, 
which must have been gratifying in no ordinary degree 
to a young man, gave occasion to the acquaintance 
that sprang up between the two poets I cannot tell ; 
but all the world knows that the mysteriously named 
Portuguese Sonnets, which appear at the end of the 
second volume of Mrs. Browning's Poems (edition of 
1853), have for their subject the wooing and being 
wooed of those distinguished persons. The interest of 
the sonnets is enhanced by the circumstance that Miss 
Barrett passed a considerable number of years in a 
sickroom, and that the courtship was carried on during 
her period of convalescence. They are characterised 
by a profound sincerity, which may possibly have 
interfered with their literary elaboration, and their 
perfection as works of art ; for the singer, conscious 
that she was not only dramatically, but actually in 

88 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

love, may have been afraid to give her imagination 
wing in the expression of her rapture. 

In the first, the lover is represented as entering the 
shadowed room of the invalid while she muses tear- 
fully on the darkness that has been cast by her malady 
across her life. She is aware that " a mystic shape " 
moves behind her, and draws her backward by the hair. 
The idea is, of course, taken from the famous passage 
in the Iliad, in which Athene takes Achilles gently, yet 
overpoweringly, by his yellow hair. The sonnet ends 
with these three lines : 

And a voice said in mastery, while I strove, 

" Guess now who holds thee ? " " Death ! " I said. 

But, there 
The silver answer rang, " Not Death, but Love." 

She is far from sure, however, that Love, not Death, 
will bear her from that chamber. In the next sonnet 
she tells her proposed deliverer that God may have 
said "Nay" to the deliverance, and that "Nay is 
worse from God than from all others." In the third 
she sinks to a lower vein, and reflects that her lover, 
exalted by his reputation, is in a higher social position 
than she. 

Thou, bethink thee, art 
A guest for queens to social pageantries, 
With gages from a hundred brighter eyes 
Than tears even can make mine, to ply thy part 
Of chief musician. What hast tJiou to do 
With looking from the lattice-lights at me, 
A poor, tired, wandering singer ? 

Continuing in this mood, she tells him, in plain 
terms, that she cannot smile upon him. " Stand 

Love Sonnets. 89 

further off, then. Go!" She reiterates the command 
in another sonnet ; but confesses that she will never 
again be as she was before; never will she lift her 
hand so serenely in the sunshine as when she had not 
yet felt the touch of his palm upon it. Her determi- 
nation, of course, does not prove irrevocable. We 
learn, in the seventh of the series, that, since she heard 
''the footsteps" of her lover's "soul" steal between 
her and death, she has been " caught up into love and 
taught the whole of life in a new rhythm." The " cup 
of dole " which God had given her has become sweet. 

The names of country, heaven, are changed away 
For where thou art or shalt be, there or here ; 
And this this lute and song loved yesterday, 
(The singing angels know) are only dear, 
Because thy name moves right in what they say. 

Clearly there is some hope for a lover whose lady 
says this. In the ninth she recurs to her unworthiness. 
She will not soil his purple with her dust. She cannot 
deny, however, that she loves him. This is a con- 
fession of some importance, and we are not surprised 
to find that she dwells on it a little. In the tenth 
sonnet she plucks up heart considerably, reflecting 
that her love qualifies her unworthiness ; and a noble 
poem, with true love beating like a melodious pulse in 
every line, is the result. 

Yet, love, mere love, is beautiful indeed 
And worthy of acceptation. Fire is bright, 
Let temple burn, or flax an equal light 
Leaps in the flame from cedar-plank or weed. 
And love is fire : and when I say at need 

90 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

I love thee mark ! I love thee ! in thy sight 

I stand transfigured, glorified aright, 

With conscience of the new rays that proceed 

Out of my face toward thine. There's nothing low 

In love, when love the lowest : meanest creatures 

Who love God, God accepts while loving so. 

And what I feel, across the inferior features 

Of what I am, doth flash itself, and show 

How that great work of Love enhances Nature's. 

These lines will recall to many the parallel passage 
in In Memoriam, in which Tennyson, while confessing 
his inability to meet his Arthur on a level of intel- 
lectual equality, asserts the greatness of his love. 

I loved thee, spirit, and love, nor can 
The soul of Shakespeare love thee more. 

There is no reason, however, to doubt that emotional 
power is normally, though perhaps not invariably, 
proportioned to intellectual power, and that only a 
Shakespeare could either think or love like Shake- 
speare. The lady continues to betray something of 
coyness. "I stand unwon, however wooed." She 
loves, but renounces. She may as well tell him, 
nevertheless, on what grounds, if he must love her, 
she chooses to be loved. A delicately beautiful sonnet 
carries this love-message. 

If thou must love me, let it be for naught 
Except for love's sake only. Do not say, 
" I love her for her smile her look her way 
Of speaking gently for a trick of thought 
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought 
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day " 
For these things in themselves, Beloved, may 

Love Sonnets. 91 

Be changed, or change for thee and love so wrought 
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for 
Thine own dear pity'sjwiping my cheeks dry 
Since one might well forget to weep who bore 
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby. 
But love me for love's sake, that evermore 
Thou may'st love on through love's eternity. 

In yet another she lingers hesitating, and will not 
abandon her attitude of loving renunciation. In the 
sixteenth, however, she gives way. The lover has 
overcome ! He has prevailed against her fears, and 
may throw the purple of his kingliness around her ! 

Beloved, I at last record 

Here ends my doubt ! If thou invite me forth, 
I rise above abasement at the word. 
Make thy love larger to enlarge my worth. 

An exultant sonnet follows, in which she lauds the 
poetry of her lover. 

My poet, thou canst touch on all the notes 
God set between His After and Before, 
And strike up and strike off the general roar 
Of the rushing worlds, a melody that floats 
In a serene air purely. 

She asks him how he will have her " for most use," 
since God has devoted her to the service of waiting on 

A hope, to sing by gladly ? or a fine, 

Sad memory, with thy songs to interfuse ? 

A shade, in which to sing, of palm or pine ? 

A grave on which to rest from singing ? Choose. 

Are not these lines exquisitely appropriate to a 

92 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

woman-poet addressing her accepted lover, who is also 
a poet ? It is pleasant, all the same, to be reminded 
that in this ideal courtship there were some incidents 
of a sort met with on more ordinary occasions of the 
kind. The lady gave her lover a lock of hair, and 
commemorated the event in a sonnet, in which the 
undertone of sadness that may generally be heard in 
Mrs. Browning's poetry is clearly audible. 

I never gave a lock of hair away 

To a man, Dearest, except this to thee, 

Which now upon my fingers thoughtfully 

I ring out to the full brown length and say, 

" Take it." My day of youth went yesterday ; 

My hair no longer bounds to my foot's glee, 

Nor plant I it from rose or myrtle-tree, 

As girls do, any more. It only may 

Now shade, on two pale cheeks, the marks of tears, 

Taught drooping from the head that hangs aside 

Through sorrow's trick. I thought the funeral shears 

Would take this first, but love is justified ; 

Take it thou, finding pure, from all those years, 

The kiss my mother left here when she died. 

In return the poet-lover gives her a lock from his 
head. It is " purply black." She suggests that the 
shade of the poet's bay-crown lies on it, it is so dark 
and places it on her heart, to be warm with her love 
until she grows cold in death. In the next she 
continues the expression of her love and pride, won- 
dering how, although he was in the world a year ago, 
it had been possible that she was unconscious of his 
presence. " Atheists," she says, " are as dull, who 
cannot guess God's presence out of sight." The 
thought has probably occurred to many fond lovers 

Love Sonnets. 93 

" How strange that we were both in the world so long 
without being aware of each other's existence ! " but 
I do not remember seeing it elsewhere expressed in 
verse or prose. Having put love's chalice to her lips, 
she will now drink of it boldly. She tells her lover to 
repeat, again and again, that he loves her. She cares 
not though it may seem a "cuckoo-strain," for she 
will have the air filled with it as the vales are filled 
with the voice of the blithe bird of spring. You 
cannot have too many stars, or too many flowers, or 
too many assurances of love. 

Say them dost love me, love me, love me toll 
The silver iterance ! only minding, Dear, 
To love me also in silence, with thy soul. 

The same strain of proud and exultant joy in love 
and the loved one is continued through several 
spirited and splendid sonnets. The sadness in them 
is but a dark background to the rainbow of their joy. 
She tells him in one of the noblest of the series, 
which I must quote entire, that her chamber had 
been peopled by visions before he came. 

I lived with visions for my company 

Instead of men and women, years ago, 

And found them gentle mates, nor thought to know 

A sweeter music than they played to me. 

But soon their trailing purple was not free 

Of this world's dust, their lutes did silent grow, 

And I myself grew faint and blind below 

Their vanishing eyes. Then THOU did'st come to be, 

Beloved, what they seemed. Their shining fronts, 

Their songs, their splendours (better, yet the same, 

94 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

As river- water hallowed into fonts) 

Met in thee, and from out thee overcame 

My soul with satisfaction of all wants 

Because G-od's gifts put man's best dreams to shame. 

There are forty-three of these sonnets, and I had 
marked several others for extract ; but my desire is 
to quote only enough to create in the reader an im- 
portunate wish for more. A very beautiful one de- 
scribes the love-letters she had received, or, rather, 
chronicles a few of them in the order of ascending in- 
tensity of love. It would be too cruel to forbear 
quoting the thirty-eighth, which contains an account of 
three kisses which the lover had the bliss of bestowing 
upon the lady. 

First time he kissed me, he but only kissed 

The fingers of this hand wherewith I write, 

And ever since it grew more clean and white, 

Slow to world -greetings, quick with its " Oh, list," 

When the angels speak. A ring of amethyst 

I could not wear here plainer to my sight, 

Than that first kiss. The second passed in height 

The first, and sought the forehead, and half missed, 

Half falling on the hair. beyond meed ! 

That was the chrism of love, which love's own crown, 

With sanctifying sweetness, did precede. 

The third upon my lips was folded down 

In perfect, purple state ! since when, indeed, 

I have been proud and said, " My love, my own." 

But the sonnet which of all the forty-three attests, 
to my thinking, most explicitly, that tenderness of 
domestic sympathy, that intense feeling of home joys, 
that loving remembrance of the friends of her child- 

Love Sonnets. 95 

hood, which characterises Mrs. Browning, is the thirty- 
fifth; I quote part of it. 

If I leave all to thee, wilt thou exchange 
And be all to me ? Shall I never miss 
Home-talk and blessing and the common kiss 
That comes to each in turn, nor count it strange, 
When I look up, to drop on a new range 
Of walls and floors another home than this ? 
Nay, wilt thou fill that place by me which is 
Filled by dead eyes too tender to know change ? 

So far as I know, there is not in the history of lite- 
rature a parallel instance to the marriage of Elizabeth 
Barrett Barrett and Robert Browning. Poets both of 
undoubted genius, they were yet of markedly diverse 
genius. Their harmony may, on that account, have 
been only the more complete. In the works of Mr. 
Browning are to be found many references to Mrs. 
Browning, all couched in terms of ardent affection. 
More than once, indeed, when she is the subject of his 
verse, he seems to pass into a less rugged, a more 
tenderly melodious and chastened, mood of literary 
execution than that in which he usually works. 
We have nothing from his pen more delicate in its 
beauty than the One Word More, in which he dedicates 
to her his series of poems called Men and Women. 
Here are a few of the most quotable, not by any 
means the best, of the lines. 

Love, you saw me gather men and women, 
Live or dead or fashioned by my fancy, 
Enter each and all, and use their service, 
Speak from every mouth, the speech, a poem. 

96 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

Hardly shall I tell my joys and sorrows, 
Hopes and fears, belief and disbelieving : 
I am mine and yours the rest be all men's, 
Karshook, Cleon, Norbert, and the fifty. 
Let me speak this once in my true person, 
Not as Lippo, Koland, or Andrea, 
Though the fruit of speech be just this sentence 
Pray you, look on these my men and women, 
Take and keep my fifty poems finished ; 
Where my heart lies, let my brain lie also ! 
Poor the speech ; be how I speak, for all things. 

Once he permits us to glance into the sacred privacy 
of his evening home. His " perfect wife " sits " read- 
ing by firelight," her " great brow " propped by " the 
spirit small hand " a vignette picture that vividly 
reminds us of those of herself in her girlish verses, as 
she sat studying by the side of her favourite brother. 



WE saw how nobly Mrs. Browning responded to 
the highest sentiments, the most heroic 
endeavours, of her time, in connection with the 
movement for the abolition of slavery, and with the 
general philanthropic impulse and effort to alleviate 
the distress of factory operatives, of overworked 
children, and of all men and women into whose soul 
the iron of luxurious, indifferent, cruel civilisation had 
too deeply entered. The Cry of the Children is part of 
the inspired poetry of our age, a word of God in a 
very strict and solemn sense. Similar in spirit, though 
not so deeply imbued with immortal fire, is A Song for 
the Ragged Schools of London. It was written in 
Rome, and the locality lends colour to the poem. 

I am listening here in Rome, 

And the Eomans are confessing, 
" English children pass in bloom, 

All God ever made for blessing. 

" Angli angeli ! (resumed 

From the mediaeval story) 
Such rose angelhoods, emplumed 

In such ringlets of pure glory! " 

98 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

Can we smooth down the bright hair, 

O my sisters, calm, unthrilled in 
Our hearts' pulses ? Can we bear 
The sweet looks of our own children, 

While those others, lean and small, 

Scurf and mildew of the city, 
Spot our streets, convict us all, 

Till we take them into pity ? 

In this instance, too, Mrs. Browning's appeal has 
not been without effect. England has heard the cry 
of the children both in the factory and in the street ; 
and if all has not yet been done that ought to be done, 
a great improvement has been effected upon the state 
of things as it was five-and-twenty years ago. 

Her heart and brain were large enough not only for 
the cause of social and philanthropic reform, but for 
that of political advancement. She sympathised 
ardently with the Italians in their cherished hope of 
breaking the chains that bound them under many 
rulers, and of asserting their independence, unity, and 
freedom as a nation. When Napoleon III. crossed 
the Alps to strike the first decisive blow on behalf of 
Italy, she hailed him in an enthusiastic Ode, which 
one now reads with mixed feelings, dubious whether 
the poet, seeing the Emperor in the halo of his Italian 
policy, did not ascribe to him some merits and virtues 
that history will not concede. At all events, it has 
proved a true prophecy in recognising the expedition 
of the French Emperor as the beginning of a new 
era for Italy. In the first stanza the poet describes 
his elevation to the throne. 

Napoleon III. 99 

Emperor, Emperor ! 

From the centre to the shore 

From the Seine back to the Rhine, 
Stood eight millions up and swore 

By their manhood's right Divine 
So to elect and legislate, 

This man should renew the line 
Broken in a strain of fate 
And leagued kings at Waterloo, 

When the people's hands let go. 

The eight millions shouted. Thinkers stood aside 
to let the nation decide. Some hated the new fact ; 
some quailed ; some cursed ; some wept. The poet 
was silent. 

That day I did not hate, 

Nor doubt, nor quail, nor curse. 
I, reverencing the people, did not bate 
My reverence of their deed and oracle, 
Nor vainly prate 

Of better and of worse, 
Against the great conclusion of their will. 

Liberals too often forget that it is a sin against free- 
dom to drown in floods of flattery all acknowledgment 
of the faults and shortcomings whereby nations have 
contributed to their own undoing. No one could 
rejoice more heartily in the establishment of the 
French Kepublic than I do ; but the enormous majori- 
ties by which the French people first called Napoleon 
III. to the Presidency, and then confirmed him on the 
throne, ought not to be swept from the historical 
memory. It is well that Mrs. Browning has put them 
on record. 


100 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

Nevertheless, she did not feel herself called upon to 
celebrate or to sanction what had been done. 

O voice and verse 

Which God set in me to acclaim and sing 
Conviction, exaltation, aspiration, 
We gave no music to the patent thing, 
Nor spared a holy rhythm to throb and swim 
About the name of him 
Translated to the sphere of domination 

By democratic passion. 
I was not used, at least, 

Nor can be, now or then, 
To stroke the ermine beast 

On any kind of throne, 

(Though builded by a nation for its own), 
And swell the surging choir for kings of men 
" Emperor 

Now, however, when he leaves " the purple throng 
of vulgar monarchs," and assays to help "the broken 
hearts of nations to be strong," she, a poet of the 
people, meets him on the Alpine snows, and finds him 
"great enough to praise." Eeflecting on the hesita- 
tion, if not the express disapproval, with which 
English statesmen had regarded the Emperor's Italian 
enterprise, she addresses him thus : 

An English poet warns thee to maintain 
God's word, not England's : let His truth be true, 
And all men liars ! with His truth respond 
To all men's lie. 

The work was, indeed, but half done. Selfish and 
cruel principalities and powers stepped in to arrest the 
emancipation of Italy. But the poet expresses conn- 

Italian Freedom. 101 

dence that the imperfection of what has been done will 
one day be removed, and with this prophecy, long since 
fulfilled, she concludes her Ode : 

Courage, whoever circumvents ! 

Courage, courage, whoever is base ! 

The soul of a high intent, be it known, 

Can die no more than any soul 

Which God keeps by Him under the throne ; 

And this, at whatever interim, 
Shall live, and be consummated 

Into the being of deeds made whole. 

Courage, courage ! Happy is he, 
Of whom (himself among the dead 
And silent), this word shall be said: 
That he might have had the world with him, 
But chose to side with suffering men, 
And had the world against him when 

He came to deliver Italy. 
" Emperor 

The two last words are repeated at the end of every 
stanza. Their effect will now strike some as ludicrous 
and some as melancholy. It remains true, however, 
that Napoleon III.'s Italian expedition was one of 
the soundest bits of work done in the recent political 
history of Europe. 

If Napoleon III. was drawn aside by priests and 
women from his onward path as deliverer of Italy, 
it was not to Mrs. Browning that he could look for 
any sympathy in his weakness. The Jesuits and the 
Papacy have had few more fervent or more frank 
detesters than she. In common with a host of able 
men and women of her generation, she inherited, from 

102 Elizabeth Barrett Broivning. 

the great Evangelical party of fifty or sixty years ago, 
not only its moral vehemence, but its cordial hatred of 
Popery. We find this in Carlyle, Macaulay, Stephen, 
Henry Rogers, Thackeray, Browning, and even in 
Tennyson, though in this last it has been kept under 
careful restraint. That habit of euphuistic reference 
to the Eoman Church, that ecstasy of admiration for 
Dr. Newman, with which we are now so well 
acquainted, belong to a new generation, a generation 
delicate in its culture and refined in its feelings, but 
hardly, perhaps, dowered with the intellectual bone 
and sinew of the earlier race. 

Mrs. Browning's poem, entitled A View Across 
the Eoman Campagna, in which she addresses the 
Pope, or the Papacy, in language of keen imagina- 
tive scorn, would now be considered, in polite 
literary circles, very bad form. The lines, however, 
are fine, and there are some of us who would 
not yet be ashamed to confess sympathy with their 
spirit. The poet pictures to herself the Papacy as 
a great ship, tempest-tossed on the sea of the 
Campagna. In order that this idea may not seem to 
us too bold, and also that its expressiveness may be 
felt, we shall do well to read Mr. Ruskin's descrip- 
tion of the plain of the Campagna. " Perhaps," says 
that prose-poet, "there is no more impressive scene 
on earth than the solitary extent of the Campagna of 
Rome under evening light. Let the reader imagine 
himself for a moment withdrawn from the sounds and 
motion of the living world, and sent forth alone into 

The Roman Campagna. 103 

this wild and wasted plain. The earth yields and 
crumbles beneath his feet, tread he never so lightly, 
for its substance is white, hollow, and carious, like the 
dusty wreck of the bones of men. The long, knotted 
grass waves and tosses feebly in the evening wind, and 
the shadows of its motion shake feverishly along the 
banks of ruin that lift themselves to the sunlight. 
Hillocks of mouldering earth heave around him, as if 
the dead beneath were struggling in their sleep ; scat- 
tered blocks of black stone four-square, remnants of 
mighty edifices, not one left upon another, lie upon 
them to keep them down. A dull purple poisonous 
haze stretches level against the desert, veiling its 
spectral wrecks of massy ruins, on whose rents the red 
light rests like dying fire on defiled altars. The blue 
ridge of the Alban Mount lifts itself against the solemn 
space of green, clear, quiet sky. Watch-towers of dark 
clouds stand steadfastly along the promontories of the 
Apennines. From the plain to the mountains, the 
shattered aqueducts, pier beyond pier, melt into the 
darkness, like shadowy and countless troops of funeral 
mourners, passing from a nation's grave." 

Such is the sea on which floats the ship of Mrs. 
Browning's poem. It opens thus : 

Over the dumb Campagna- sea, 

Out in the offing through mist and rain, 

Saint Peter's Church heaves silently 
Like a mighty ship in pain, 
Facing the tempest with struggle and strain. 

Motionless waifs of ruined towers, 
Soundless breakers of desolate land : 

104 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

The sullen surf of the mist devours 

That mountain -range upon either hand, 
Eaten away from its outline grand. 

And over the dumb Campagna-sea 

Where the ship of the Church heaves on to wreck, 
Alone and silent as God must be, 

The Christ walks. Ay, but Peter's neck 

Is stiff to turn on the foundering deck. 

Peter, Peter ! If such be thy name, 

Now leave the ship for another to steer, 

And proving thy faith evermore the same, 

Come forth, tread out through the dark and drear, 
Since He who walks on the sea is here. 

But the modern Peter does not move. He is no 
longer rash, " as in old Galilee." He will not quit the 
good things of temporal power, and content himself 
with the homely fare of fishermen, even though Christ 
be of the party. 

Peter, Peter ! He does not stir ; 

His nets are heavy with silver fish ; 
He reckons his gains, and is keen to infer 

" The broil on the shore, if the Lord should wish ; 

But the sturgeon goes to the Caesar's dish." 

Many voices would now be raised in protest against 
the next verse, in which the Papacy is accused of 
having bent the knee to Mammon. 

Peter, Peter ! thou fisher of men, 
Fisher of fish wouldst thou live instead ? 

Haggling for pence with the other Ten, 
Cheating the market at so much a head, 
Griping the bag of the traitor Dead. 

Whether there is or is not justice in this charge, I 

Mother and Poet. 105 

shall not decisively say. My own feeling is that it is 
exaggerated. Avarice does not seem to rue to have 
been one of the eminent vices of the Papacy. The 
Church of Eome has not stooped to barter freedom for 

The last verse is prophetic of woe to the Papacy ; 
but the Church of Kome has outlived many grim 

At the triple crow of the Gallic cock 
Thou weep'st not, thou, though thine eyes be dazed : 

What bird comes next in the tempest-shock ? 
Vultures ! see, as when Komulus gazed, 
To inaugurate Eome for a world amazed ! 

Mrs. Browning watched the course of the Italian 
war with an interest that may be imagined, and 
celebrated some of its heroic and touching incidents. 
One of these gave occasion to the piece entitled 
Mother and Poet, written at Turin after Gaeta was 
taken. I shall quote a few of the stanzas, they tell 
their own tale. A patriot mother had sent her two 
sons to the war. 

At first, happy news came, in gay letters moiled 
With my kisses, of camp-life and glory, and how 

They both loved me ; and, soon coming home to be spoiled, 
In return would fan off every fly from my brow 
With their green laurel-bough. 

Then was triumph at Turin : " Ancona was free ! " 
And some one came out of the cheers in the street, 

With a face pale as stone, to say something to me, 
My Guido was dead ! I fell down at his feet, 
While they cheered in the street. 

106 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

I bore it ; friends soothed me ; my grief looked sublime 
As the ransom of Italy. One boy remained 

To be leant on and walked with, recalling the time 
When the first grew immortal, while both of us strained 
To the height he had gained. 

And letters still came, shorter, sadder, more strong 
Writ now but in one hand, " I was not to faint, 

One loved me for two would be with me ere long : 
And Viva V Italia ! Tie died for, our saint, 
Who forbids our complaint." 

My Nanni would add, " He was safe, and aware 

Of a presence that turned off the balls was imprest 

It was Guido himself who knew what I could bear, 
And how 'twas impossible, quite dispossessed, 
To live on for the rest." 

On which, without pause, up the telegraph-line 
Swept smoothly the next news from Gaeta : Shot. 
Tell his mother. Ah, ah, "his," "their" mother, not 

No voice says " My mother " again to me. What ! 

You think Guido forgot ? 

Dead ! One of them shot by the sea in the east, 
And one of them shot in the west by the sea. 

Both ! both my boys ! If in keeping the feast 
You want a great song for your Italy free, 
Let none look at me. 

Speaking generally of Mrs. Browning's political 
poetry, I should pronounce it inferior, viewed as poetry* 
to most of her other work. Splendid as eloquence, it 
has not quite the poetic perfection of form. Its moral 
qualities are inestimable. 


THE most extensive of all Mrs. Browning's poems 
is Aurora Leigh, and its acceptance with readers 
of poetry has been attested by the sale of many editions. 
The poet, in dedicating it to her " dearest cousin and 
friend," John Kenyon, in 1856, describes it as "the most 
mature " of her works, and the one in which she has 
expressed her "highest convictions upon Life and Art.'' 
It is a tale in nine Books, and may, with some indefi- 
niteness, yet reasonable accuracy, be pronounced a 
modern epic, of which the central figure is a woman, 
and whose theme is social amelioration. Not arms 
and the man, but social problems and the woman, are 
sung by Mrs. Browning, and whether she solves the 
problems or not, it must be admitted that she has 
produced a taking and beautiful poem. I have always 
felt that it had defects, some of them serious, but each 
new reading has heightened my conception of its 
power and splendour. The pitch of its intensity, 
sustained from beginning to end, is astonishing in a 

108 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

work not much shorter than Paradise Lost. There 
is no straining ; nothing to hint that the poet 
worked with difficulty ; and yet the richness of colour 
and strength of imaginative fire are such as we should 
look for in brief lyrical effusions rather than in a long 
narrative poem. In the rapidity and animation of the 
style the quick succession of incident, the sense of 
motion everywhere the book recalls the manner of 
Homer. It is instinct with music. We feel that the 
poet does not recite, she sings. In its rich and ringing 
melody, as well as- in its warm imaginative glow, it is 
superior to George Eliot's Spanish Gipsy. 

The first Book introduces us to the heroine. She is 
a poet, and speaks for herself. " I who have written 
much in prose and verse for others' uses will write 
now for mine." That Aurora Leigh is, to some extent, 
what Mrs. Browning was, cannot, I think, be doubtful ; 
but I am convinced that we should err if we looked 
upon the resemblance between the two as very close. 
This heroine is not less a creation of her mind than 
the Duchess May or the Lady Geraldine, in both of 
whom, we may be sure, there are traces, and deep 
traces, of herself. Aurora is half-Italian by blood, and 
is not only born, but brought up till she is thirteen, in 
Italy ; and the poet gives good heed to the fact that 
there is an Italian element in her character. Her 
father was an English gentleman of property, her 
mother a Florentine. The latter had died when 
Aurora was four years old. The mother's death suggests 
some priceless lines on mother's love, in which we 

Mother's Love. 109 

seem to put our ear to Mrs. Browning's heart and hear 
its beating. 

I felt a mother-want about the world, 

And still went seeking, like a bleating lamb 

Left out at night, in shutting up the fold, 

As restless as a nest- deserted bird 

Grown chill through something being away, though what 

It knows not. I, Aurora Leigh, was born 

To make my father sadder, and myself 

Not over-joyous, truly. Women know 

The way to rear up children (to be just), 

They know a simple, merry, tender knack 

Of tying sashes, fitting baby-shoes, 

And stringing pretty words that make no sense, 

And kissing full sense into empty words ; 

Which things are corals to cut life upon, 

Although such trifles. .... 

. Fathers love as well 

Mine did, I know, but still with heavier brains, 
And wills more consciously responsible, 
And not as wisely, since less foolishly ; 
So mothers have God's licence to be missed. 

Her father was an " austere Englishman," who, 
" after a dry lifetime spent at home in college-learning, 
law, and parish talk," fell suddenly in love with a girl 
whom he saw in an Italian church, and married her. 
When she died, he had her picture painted. The face, 
throat, and hands having heen finished, her chamber- 
maid, " in hate of the English-fashioned shroud," 
insisted that she should be clad in "the last brocade 
she dressed in at the Pitti." The effect was "very 
strange/' The whiteness of the corpse-face, the red 
stiff silk of the dress, impressed the imagination of 
the child, and she would sit for hours upon the floor, 

110 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

staring at the picture. As she grew in years, and was 
taught by her father to read a variety of books, she 
associated whatever she read with the richly-dressed 
figure and dead-face, and it became to her the 
emblem of " the incoherences of change and death," 
mixed and merged in the fair " mystery of perpetual 
life." When this had continued for nine years, her 
father also died, and she was sent to England. 

Coming from the Italian home of her childhood, 
Aurora Leigh thought England a poor affair. 

The train swept us on. 

Was this my father's England ? The great Isle ? 
The ground seemed cut up from the fellowship 
Of verdure, field from field, as man from man. 

Her aunt received her without much show of 

I think I see my father's sister stand 

Upon the hall-step of her country-house 

To give me welcome. She stood straight and calm, 

Her somewhat narrow forehead braided tight, 

As if for taming accidental thoughts 

From possible pulses; brown hair pricked with grey 

By frigid use of life (she was not old, 

Although my father's elder by a year); 

A nose drawn sharply, yet in delicate lines ; 

A close, mild mouth, a little soured about 

The ends, through speaking unrequited loves, 

Or peradventure niggardly half-truths ; 

Eyes of no colour, once they might have smiled, 

But never, never have forgot themselves 

In smiling ; cheeks, in which was yet a rose 

Of perished summers, like a rose in a book, 

Kept more for ruth than pleasure, if past bloom, 

Past fading also. 

There is a fleering, flippant tone in Aurora's descrip- 

Aurora's Aunt. Ill 

tion of her aunt, which, "betrays a coldness in the region 
of the heart constituting a very serious charge against 
the heroine. The half-contemptuous, knowing air of 
what follows is new in the poetry, as it was foreign 
to the character, of Mrs. Browning. 

The poor-club exercised her Christian gifts 
Of knitting stockings, stitching petticoats, 
Because we are of one flesh after all, 
And need one flannel (with a proper sense 
Of difference in the quality) and still 
The book-club, guarded from your modern trick 
Of shaking dangerous questions from the crease, 
Preserved her intellectual. She had lived 
A sort of cage-bird life, born in a cage, 
Accounting that to leap from perch to perch 
Was act and joy enough for any bird. 

At the first moment of seeing Aurora the aunt 
"seemed moved," kissed the girl, though with " cold 
lips," and suffered her to cling affectionately. But her 
demeanour suddenly changed. Having taken her niece 
into her own room, she revealed the true state of her 


With some strange spasm 

Of pain and passion, she wrung loose my hands 
Imperiously, and held me at arm's length, 
And with two grey-steel, naked-bladed eyes 
Searched through my face ay, stabbed it through and 


Through brows and cheeks and chin, as if to find 
A wicked murderer in my innocent face, 
If not here, there, perhaps. Then, drawing breath, 
She struggled for her ordinary calm, 
And missed it rather, told me not to shrink, 
As if she had told me not to lie or swear. 
" She loved my father, and would love me too 
As long as I deserved it." Very kind. 

112 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

Aurora explains her aunt's proceedings by saying 
that she had thought to find traces of her Italian 
mother in her face. 

My aunt 

Had loved my father truly as she could, 
And hated, with the gall of gentle souls, 
My Tuscan mother, who had fooled away 
A wise man from wise courses, a good man 
From obvious duties. 

Whatever her prejudice against mother or child, the 
aunt failed in no duty to Aurora, giving proof, on the 
contrary, of sincere and considerate affection. She 
was not what a mother would have been ; yet a kind- 
hearted girl would have felt towards her more like a 
daughter than Aurora felt. The sole excuse doubt- 
less an import ant- excuse for her bitterness, was her 
aunt's angry feeling towards her mother. 

The girl was educated according to her aunt's views 
of what befitted an English lady. 

I learnt the Collects and the Catechism, 
The Creeds, from Athanasius back to Nice, 
The Articles, the Tracts against the times. 

The italicised word is Mrs. Browning's pointed 
estimate of the Anglo-Catholic revival under Newman, 
Manning, and Pusey. Aurora learned classic French, 
German, a little algebra, a little geometry, a very 
little science, a good deal of genealogical history and 
geographical detail, much music, drawing, dancing, 
glass-spinning, bird-stuffing, flower-modelling in wax, 
" because she liked accomplishments in girls." 

Eomney Leigh. 113 

And last 

I learnt cross-stitch, because she did not like 
To see me wear the night with empty hands, 
A-doing nothing. 

This education was torture to our heroine. " Certain 
of your feebler souls go out in such a process ; many 
pine to a sick, inodorous light." She neither died nor 
pined into insipidity, hut showed that she had a will, 
and managed to have a way, of her own. The 
situation was not without its assuagements. There 
was Eomney Leigh, for example, her cousin, whom 
she "used as a sort of friend." He was a few years 
her senior, but still young too young, indeed, to be, 
as he was, master of the estate of Leigh Hall, the 
sense of his responsibilities in relation to which made 
him precociously grave and earnest. He would cross 
the hills with gifts of grapes from his hot-houses, a 
book in his hand, which, when Aurora lifted the 
cover, was sure to be statistico-philanthropical. The 
aunt was indulgent in connection with the intercourse 
of the cousins. 

She almost loved him, even allowed 

That sometimes he should seem to sigh my way ; 

It made him easier to be pitiful, 

And sighing was his gift. So, undisturbed 

At whiles she let him shut my music up, 

And push my needles down, and lead me out 

To see in that south angle of the house 

The figs grow black as if by a Tuscan rock, 

On some light pretext. She would turn her head 

At other moments, go to fetch a thing, 

And leave me breath enough to speak with him. 

This was rather tenderly considerate in so austere a 

114 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

lady. Might not Aurora have spared one kind word 
for an old maid who, whatever her faults, had the 
redeeming quality of knowing when she was in the 
way, and taking herself out of it? On the state of 
the girl's feelings towards Eomney himself, we are not, 
at this stage of the narrative, favoured with definite 
information. One symptom is interesting : the skilful 
in love-lore will interpret it for themselves. 

Once, he stood so near 
He dropped a sudden hand upon my head, 
Bent down on woman's work, as soft as rain ; 
But then I rose and shook it off as fire, 
The stranger's touch that took my father's place 
Yet dared seem soft. 

At all events, Romney contributed to the enliven- 
ment of Aurora's existence. She gradually found that 
life might be endurable even in chilly England, and 
under the auspices of an unsympathising aunt. She 
had a little room for herself, embosomed, like a finch's 
nest, in greenery. You could not put your head out 
at the window without getting " a dash of dawn-dew 
from the honeysuckle." Does not the reader feel its 
freshness? Beyond the elms you saw the low hills 
behind which " Cousin Eomney 's " chimneys sent up 
the blue smoke in fine wreaths. 

Far above, a jut of table-land, 
A promontory without water, stretched. 
You could not catch it if the day were thick, 
Or took it for a cloud ; but otherwise 
The vigorous sun would catch it up at eve, 
And use it for an anvil till he had filled 
The shelves of heaven with burning thunderbolts, 

English Scenery. 115 

And proved he need not rest so early : then 
When all his setting trouble was resolved 
In a trance of passive glory, you might see 
In apparition on the golden sky 
(Alas, my Giotto's background !) the sheep run 
Along the fine clear outline, small as mice 
That run along a witch's scarlet thread. 

We may, I think, take it for granted that Mrs. 
Browning was here poetically painting directly from 
nature, and that she saw those minute sheep cut out 
in black against the sunset. It is due both to artists 
and poets to trust them, though the particular appear- 
ances which they chronicle may not have fallen within 
one's own observation. It is only under rare atmo- 
spheric conditions that the sheep on the headland 
could have been seen with Mrs. Browning's bodily 
eye; but the mind's eye sees them with vivid dis- 
tinctness, and dwells on them with keen delight. 
That is enough. 

Aurora is at her best in describing scenery, and she 
describes England better than Italy. She has a store 
of sonorous phrases, and of imposing, far-fetched 
imagery, at the service of Italian landscape; but, for all 
the loudness of her praise of Italian hills and skies, we 
feel that her heart is in England. She tries to be 
smart and satirical in depicting her father's country, 
but soon gets into a more genial mood. 

On English ground 

You understand the letter, ere the fall, 
How Adam lived in a garden. All the fields 
Are tied up fast with hedges, nosegay-like ; 


116 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

The hills are crumpled plains, the plains, parterres, 

The trees, round, woolly, ready to be clipped ; 

And if you seek for any wilderness 

You find at best a park. A nature tamed 

And grown domestic like a barn-door fowl, 

Which does not awe you with its claws and beak, 

Nor tempt you to an eyrie too high up, 

But which, in cackling, sets you thinking of 

Your eggs to-morrow at breakfast, in the pause 

Of finer meditation. Kather say 

A sweet familiar nature, stealing in 

As a dog might, or child, to touch your hand 

Or pluck your gown, and humbly mind you so 

Of presence and aifection. 

This is, at best, cool and qualified commendation ; 
but, a few pages on, she drops the flippant air, and 
writes with lyric ecstasy. 

I learnt to love that England. Very oft, 
Before the day was born, or otherwise 
Through secret windings of the afternoons, 
I threw my hunters off and plunged myself 
Among the deep hills, as a hunted stag 
Will take the waters, shivering with the fear 
And passion of the course. And when, at last 
Escaped so many a green slope built on slope 
Betwixt me and the enemy's house behind 
I dared to rest or wander like a rest 
Made sweeter for the step upon the grass 
And view the ground's most gentle dimplement 
(As if God's finger touched, but did not press 
In making England!), such an up and down 
Of verdure nothing too much up or down, 
A ripple of land ; such little hills, the sky 
Can stoop to tenderly, and the wheatfields climb ; 
Such nooks of valleys, lined with orchises, 
Fed full of noises by invisible streams ; 

English Landscape. 117 

And open pastures, where you scarcely tell 
White daisies from white dew, at intervals 
The mythic oaks and elm-trees standing out 
Self-poised upon their prodigy of shade 
I thought my father's land was worthy, too, 
Of being my Shakespeare's. 

Walking in such scenes with Cousin Komney and his 
friend the rising painter, Vincent Carrington, Aurora 
would be the gayest of the party, telling her cousin, 
when he sighed about the distresses of the poor, that 
howsoever the world might go ill, "the thrushes still 
sang in it." He bore with her " in melancholy 
patience, not unkind; " and thus encouraged, she 
sketched the bright side of things with a warmth of 
colour which, if it will not convince many that fever, 
cancer, madness, pestilence, or starvation are evils to 
be vanquished by songs and smiles, must have been 
charming to Bomney, and is charming to us. 

I flattered all the beauteous country round, 
As poets use, the skies, the clouds, the fields, 
The happy violets hiding from the roads, 
The primroses run down to, carrying gold, 
The tangled hedgerows, where the cows push out 
Impatient horns and tolerant churning mouths 
'Twixt dripping ash-boughs, hedges all alive 
With birds, and gnats, and large white butterflies, 
Which look as if the May-flower had caught life 
And palpitated forth upon the wind, 
Hills, vales, woods, netted in a silver mist, 
Farms, granges, doubled up among the hills, 
And cattle grazing in the watered vales, 
And cottage-chimneys smoking from the woods, 
And cottage-gardens smelling everywhere, 
Confused with smell of orchards. 

118 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

These descriptions of English landscape have not 
the minute elaboration of Tennyson, nor the vague 
sympathy, partly mystical, partly pantheistic, with 
nature, of Wordsworth, but they evince an unaffected 
heartiness, a buoyancy of loving joy, which neither 
Tennyson nor Wordsworth can rival. Cowper was as 
honest in his affection for English landscape and 
Cowper was a very masterly describer, but the move- 
ment of his genius was slower, his fancy less brilliant, 
his imagination less powerful, his sense of melody and 
rhythm in words feebler, than Mrs. Browning's. In 
melodious word-painting of English lowland country, 
she is unrivalled. 

One morning, Aurora, gambolling like a Dryad 
among trees and flowers, had just selected for herself 
an ivy- wreath to bind across her brow, when she was 
aware of " Cousin Komney." It was her birthday, 
and he had come presumably to congratulate her on 
the occasion. He had something more to say, how- 
ever, and he edged towards his purpose by telling 
Aurora that he had found, beside the stream, a book 
of hers a book of poems. He had, he said, not read 
a word of it, but he nevertheless took the liberty to 
advise her to forswear poetical composition. They 
chatted lightly on this subject for a few moments, 
when he suddenly said, " Aurora ! " There must have 
been something significant in the tone, for girls are 
not usually startled when their cousins call them by 
their names ; and yet, says our heroine, " there I 
stopped short, breath and all." Komney thereupon 

A Strange Wooer. 119 

kindly but long-windedly proposed that his cousin 
should give up poetry and take to world-regeneration 
instead, with him for guide, philosopher, and hushand. 
His allusion to her poetry, which, remember, he had 
not been curious enough to read (Aurora, if at all 
like other girls and boys that write verses, would 
have pardoned him a good deal of boldness in doing 
that), is not felicitous. 

T|ae chances are that, being a woman, young 
And pure, with such a pair of large, calm eyes, 
You write as well, and ill, upon the whole, 
As other women. If as weh 1 , what then ? 
If even a little better still, what then ? 

In the second book or canto of a poem-novel, the 
hero maybe expected to be almost impossibly maladroit ; 
but I hope, for the honour of mankind, that no actual 
human being has ever been capable of anything so 
stupid as this. Eomney proceeds to demonstrate to 
Aurora that women have no serious chance of doing 
good except by helping men to do it, explaining to his 
cousin her constitutional incapacity to attain high 
excellence with a glibness which might have fitted him 
to become an efficient lecturer against woman's rights. 
Hear him on woman's bondage to personal feeling. 

You generalise, 

Oh, nothing ! not even grief! Your quick-breathed hearts, 
So sympathetic to the personal pang, 
Close on each separate knife-stroke, yielding up 
A whole life at each wound, incapable 
Of deepening, widening a large lap of life 
To hold the world-full woe. The human race 
To you means such a child, or such a man, 

120 Elizabeth Barrett Broioning. 

You saw one morning waiting in the cold, 
Beside that gate, perhaps. You gather up 
A few such cases, and, when strong, sometimes 
Will write of factories and of slaves, as if 
Your father were a negro, and your son 
A spinner in the miUs. 

He goes on, in a long-winded manner, to infer that, 
when the woes of communities have to be dealt with, 
women are necessarily weak. The world the general 
body of mankind remains uncomprehended by them, 
and must remain uninfluenced. Women 'may be 
doting mothers, good wives, but they cannot save 
nations, or write true poems. Pausing in his 
harangue, he lets his cousin speak five words, and 
then starts again, entreating her, since she is fit for 
better things, such as marrying him, not "to play at 
art, as children play at swords." With delicate face- 
tiousness, he puts himself in the position of a critic 
reviewing Aurora's poems. 

Oh, excellent ! 

What grace ! what facile terms ! what fluent sweeps ! 

What delicate discernment almost thought ! 

The book does honour to the sex, we hold. 

Among our female authors we make room 

For this fair writer, and congratulate 

The country that produces in these times 

Such women, competent to spell. 

It is a grave objection to the poem that these words 
are put into the mouth of a proposing lover. Such 
violation of probability exceeds the utmost licence 
permissible to art. Romney Leigh is not, in my 
opinion, a happily conceived figure. The character is 
such as, outside the circles of amiable and interesting 

JRomney Leigh. 121 

lunacy, can hardly be supposed to exist. It is at best 
a type of nineteenth-century enthusiasm, not of per- 
manent human nature. But I am not sure that 
anything in the delineation of Eomney violates pro- 
bability quite so harshly and his career trenches on 
probability at several points as his prefacing an offer 
of his hand to Aurora with a ponderous argument that 
her sex is incapable and herself a goose. With a sense 
of relief, we find at last that she cuts short his oration. 

" Stop there !" 

I answered burning through his thread of talk 
With a quick flame of emotion. 

She tells him that she does not want praise, that she 
would rather dance on the tight-rope to amuse chil- 
dren at fairs, than write verse for men in a frivolous 
spirit. He breaks in again to ask her to choose 
nobler work in marrying him, and expatiates on the 
miseries that call for alleviation. She reminds him 
sharply that he has been demonstrating to her that 
women are unfit for the work of social improvement, 
and would like to know how, if she is too weak to 
stand alone, she can bear him leaning on her shoulder. 
This makes him speak rather more civilly. 

" Aurora, dear, 

And dearly honoured " he pressed in at once 
With eager utterance " you translate me ill. 
I do not contradict my thought of you, 
Which is most reverent, with another thought 
Found less so. If your sex is weak for art 
(And I who said so, did but honour you, 
By using truth in courtship), it is strong 
For life and duty." 

122 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

The apology will not stand examination. He had 
pronounced women incapable of generalisation in any 
form, and he was logically bound to affirm that her 
strength for life and duty could be manifested only in 
so far as she strengthened him for undertakings to 
which men alone are competent. This Aurora per- 
ceives ; and replies to his offer of his hand, that he 
loves " not a woman, but a cause ; " his wife was to be 
a helpmate, not an end in herself. 

" Your cause is noble, your ends excellent, 
But I, being most unworthy of these and that, 
Do otherwise conceive of love. Farewell." 

He continues to plead. Making more amends for 
his disparagement of her sex, he informs her, rather 
to our surprise, that he holds " the woman to be 
nobler than the man." Women can love better than 
men can, and love " generates the likeness of itself 
through all heroic duties." Still, the nobleness of 
woman is to find scope only through her love for man, 
and Aurora will not accept this condition of being 
useful. She has her duty, she tells him, as well as he, 
a duty which she can perform, though unmarried. As 
a poet, she works in the ideal; and life, she insists, 
would become vile and despicable unless men were 
taught by poets to aspire to the ideal. He may scorn 
her art, but she loves it, and will cling to it. Presently 
their aunt appears, and bids Aurora ask Komney to 
finish the talk indoors. He answers for her that his 
cousin has dismissed him, and abruptly takes leave. 
To her aunt, looking for explanation, Aurora says 

An Explanation. 123 

bitterly that lie had come to take her " into service as 
a wife," and that she had refused him. An important 
conversation between aunt and niece ensues, and we 
are favoured with information which throws light upon 
the character of the former and upon the prospects of 
the latter. 

The aunt explains that, if not from the point of 
view of romantic eighteen, yet from that of sober and 
judicious fifty-five, there were powerful arguments in 
favour of Bomney's proposal. Were she, the aunt, to 
die, Aurora would be destitute. 

Without a right to crop 
A single blade of grass beneath these trees, 
Or cast a lamb's small shadow on the lawn, 
Unfed, unfolded. 

Her father's Italian marriage had cost his daughter 
her inheritance. By a clause in the entail excluding 
offspring by a foreign wife, the estates passed to 
Eomney Leigh. But Vane Leigh, Komney's father, 
aware of this, had written to Aurora's father, so soon 
as he heard that a daughter was born to him, asking the 
child in marriage for his son. This letter may be sup- 
posed to have set the father's mind at rest, and there 
the matter had been left ; but now, if the girl in her 
wilfulness turned from Komney, she would not only 
bring poverty on herself, but defeat the family plans. 
What, asked the aunt, would she be at ? 

You must have 

A pattern lover sighing on his knee : 
You do not count enough a noble heart, 

124 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

Above book-patterns, which this very morn 
Unclosed itself, in two dear father's names, 
To embrace your orphaned life ! fie, fie ! But stay, 
I write a word, and counteract this sin. 

Aurora entreats her, with passionate earnestness, to 
do nothing of the kind. Her soul at least, she says, is 
not a pauper; she can live her soul's life without alms, 
and if she must die in making the attempt, she is not 
afraid to die. What could a prosaic old lady say to 
a poetical young niece in this frame of mind? It 
turns out that the aunt knows the time of day with 
remarkable accuracy. 

She seized my hands with both hers, strained them fast, 

And drew her. probing and unscrupulous eyes 

Eight through me, body and heart. "Yet, foolish Sweet, . 

You love this man. I have watched you when he came, 

And when he went, and when we've talked of him : 

I am not old for nothing ; I can tell 

The weather-signs of love you love this man." 

Who would have thought that the venerable maiden 
had so much wit in her ! A burning blush upon Aurora's 
cheek and brow witnesses to the correctness of her 
observation ; but the girl loudly accuses the blush of 

treason and falsehood. 

I attest 

The conscious skies, and all their daily suns, 
I think I loved him not, nor then, nor since, 
Nor ever. Do we love the schoolmaster, 
Being busy in the woods ? much less, being poor, 
The overseer of the parish ? Do we keep 
Our love to pay our debts with ? 

She then becomes so violent that her aunt drops her 
hands and ceases to smile. 

Authorship. 125 

" We'll leave Italian manners, if you please. 
I think you had an English father, child, 
And ought to find it possible to speak 
A quiet ' yes ' or ' no ' like English girls, 
Without convulsions. In another month 
We'll take another answer . . . no, or yes." 
With that, she left me in the garden walk. 

When a month had gone by, all was changed. The 
aunt had died suddenly, leaving Aurora her furniture 
and three hundred pounds. Romney vainly tries to 
convince his cousin that her legacy was thirty thou- 
sand pounds, which sum he had intended to present 
to his aunt, with a view to its being left to Aurora. 
They part. She betakes herself to London, trusting 
to her pen for a livelihood, and soon makes her way, if 
not to fortune, at least to fame. We are favoured with 
samples of the criticism published upon her writings. 

My critic Hammond flatters prettily, 
And wants another volume like the last. 
My critic Belfair wants another book 
Entirely different, which will sell (and live ?) 
A striking book, yet not a startling book, 
The public blames originalities, 
(You must not pump spring-water unawares 
Upon a gracious public, full of nerves ) 
Good things, not subtle, new yet orthodox, 
As easy reading as the dog-eared page 
That's fingered by said public, fifty years, 
Since first taught spelling by its grandmother, 
And yet a revelation in some sort ! 
That's hard, my critic Belfair ! 

The criticism of Belfair is one which in substance 
has been probably made oftener than any other on the 
works both of Mrs. Browning and Mr. Browning. 

126 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

It is indeed difficult more difficult in the present day 
than it ever was before, on account of the enormous 
amount of passably good literature to be original 
without being extravagant, to attract by sheer weight 
or worth of matter, presented with classic quietness 
of style, instead of by some "trick of singularity." 
But it remains a truth of universal application 
that mannerism, obscurity, eccentricity are notes, 
at best, of genius of the second order, and that 
simplicity and clearness are notes of genius of the 

Seven years had come and gone. The life in the 
country, which had at times been irksome when 
Aurora's aunt pressed on her with her rules and re- 
strictions, had begun to grow dear to memory, with 
mellow radiance in the lights and softness in the 
shadows. Any friend who could recall to her mind 
little matters of that time was welcome. 

A hedgehog in the path, or a lame bird 

In those green country walks, in that good time, 

When certainly I was so miserable, 

I seem to have missed a blessing ever since. 

She worked in a chamber up three flights of stairs, 
and found the smoky sunsets and weltering fogs of 
London not unpropitious to poetical composition. 


I worked the short days out, and watched the sun 

On lurid morns or monstrous afternoons, 

Like some Druidic idol's fiery brass, 

With fixed unflickering outline of dead heat, 

In which the blood of wretches pent inside 

Seemed oozing forth to incarnadine the air, 

Lady Waldemar. 127 

Push out through fog with his dilated disc, 
And startle the slant roofs and chimney-pots 
With splashes of fierce colour. 

She " worked with patience, which is almost power." 
Being poor, she was " constrained, for life, to work 
with one hand for the booksellers," while working 
with the other for herself and art. She wrote for 
cyclopaedias, magazines, reviews, weekly papers. 

I wrote tales beside, 

Carved many an article on cherry-stones 
To suit light readers, something in the lines 
Eevealing, it was said, the mallet-hand, 
But that, I'll never vouch for. What you do 
For bread, will taste of common grain, not grapes, 
Although you have a vineyard in Champagne. 

She became known, and great folks asked her to 
their entertainments, to do service in capacity of 

One day an extremely aristocratic person found her 
way up the three pairs of stairs, and announced her- 
self as Lady Waldemar. She is described as typical 
of high-born English dames, gentle because so proud, 
too high above the common world to be put out 
by anything in it, with low voice and gracious and 
conciliating manner. We are privileged to listen to a 
protracted conversation between her and Aurora. Her 
ladyship announces that she is in* love with Komney 
Leigh. Her first husband had died while she was 
still young, and she might marry a marquis when she 
chose, but Eomney Leigh's name was good, his means 
were excellent, and in fact she was as mad with love 

128 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

as he was with philanthropy. Then follows a passage 
which I should be very sorry to consider a successful 
imitation of the talk of English ladies in the rank of 
Lady Waldemar. A critic is bound to show his author 
at the worst, or nearly at the worst, as well as at what 
he deems the best, and therefore I shall quote the 
lines. Lady Waldemar speaks. 

Of a truth, Miss Leigh, 
I have not, without struggle, come to this. 
I took a master in the German tongue, 
I gamed a little, went to Paris twice ; 
But, after all, this love ! You eat of love, 
And do as vile a thing as if you ate 
Of garlic which, whatever else you eat, 
Tastes uniformly acrid, till your peach 
Beminds you of your onion. Am I coarse ? 
Well, love's coarse, nature's coarse ah, there's the rub ! 
We fair, fine ladies, who park out our lives 
From common sheep-paths, cannot help the crows 
From flying over we're as natural still 
As Blowsalinda. Drape us perfectly 
In Lyons velvet, we are not, for that, 
Lay-figures, look you ! we have hearts within, 
Warm, live, improvident, indecent hearts, 
As ready for distracted ends and acts 
As any distressed sempstress of them all 
That Bomney groans and toils for. We catch love 
And other fevers in the vulgar way. 
Love will not be outwitted by our wit, 
Nor outrun by our equipages: mine 
Persisted, spite of efforts. All my cards 
Turned up but Bornney Leigh ; my German stopped 
At germane Wertherism ; my Paris rounds 
Beturned me from the Champs Elysees just 
A ghost, and sighing like Dido's. I came home 
Uncured convicted rather to myself 
Of being in love in love ! That's coarse, you'll say. 
I'm talking garlic. 

Lady Waldemar. 129 

No Englishwoman who had any pretensions to the 
name of lady could express herself in terms like these. 

Lady Waldemar proceeds to inform Aurora that 
Eomney Leigh was about to inaugurate a new era 
by marrying Marian Erie, a needlewoman, and thus 
reconciling class to class. To this match Lady 
Waldemar vehemently objected, and her purpose in 
visiting Aurora was, she signified, to enlist her assist- 
ance in dissuading Bomney, or the needlewoman, 
from the perpetration of such an absurdity, Our 
heroine refuses to interfere, and lets Lady Waldemar 
know her determination to this effect with consider- 
able sharpness. Her ladyship makes her infer- 
ences, and, in retiring, lets fly this Parthian shaft 
at Aurora : 

Farewell, then. Write your books in peace, 
As far as may be for some secret stir 
Now obvious to me, for, most obviously, 
In coming hither I mistook the way. 

That is to say, Lady Waldemar formed the opinion 
arrived at by Aurora's aunt respecting the state of 
that young lady's feelings towards her cousin. Miss 
Leigh's conduct after Lady Waldemar had gone was, 
to say the least, not inconsistent with this view. Two 
hours afterwards she has penetrated to St. Margaret's- 
court, the hideous den, or rookery, in which Bomney's 
affianced bride was to be found. There are dismal 
places in London, inhabited by a miserable and half- 
savage population ; but Mrs. Browning's description 
of St. Margaret's-^court is exaggerated beyond all 


130 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

bounds of credibility, and reads like a caricature of 
Dickens. I shall quote part of the passage, but with- 
out marking the division into lines. Edgar Poe, a 
critic of fine discrimination, proposes, as a sound test 
of the poetical quality of verse, to print it in the form 
of prose, and to take note whether it is melodious or 
is not. 

" Within St. Margaret's-court I stood alone, close- 
veiled. A sick child, from an ague-fit, whose wasted 
right hand gambled 'gainst his left with an old brass 
button in a blot of sun, jeered weakly at me as I 
passed across the uneven pavement ; while a woman, 
rouged upon the angular cheek-bones, kerchief torn, 
thin dangling locks, and flat, lascivious mouth, cursed 
at a window both ways, in and out, by turns some 
bed-rid creature and myself, ' Lie still there, 
mother! liker the dead dog you'll be to-morrow. 
What, we pick our way, fine madam, with those 
damnable small feet ! We cover up our face from 
doing good, as if it were our purse ! What brings 
you here, my lady? Is't to find my gentleman who 
visits his tame pigeon in the eaves ? Our cholera 
catch you with its cramps and spasms, and tumble 
up your good clothes, veil and all, and turn your 
whiteness dead-blue.' I looked up ; I think I could 
have walked through hell that day, and never flinched. 
' The dear Christ comfort you,' I said, * you must 
have been most miserable to be so cruel ' and I 
emptied out my purse upon the stones : when , as I 
had cast the last charm in the cauldron, the whole 


St. Margaret's Court. 131 

court went boiling, bubbling up, from all its doors 
and windows, with a hideous wail of laughs and roar 
of oaths, and blows perhaps. I passed too quickly for 
distinguishing, and pushed a little side-door hanging 
on a hinge, and plunged into the dark, and groped and 
climbed the long, steep, narrow stair 'twixt broken rail 
and mildewed wall that let the plaster drop to startle 
me in the blackness. Still, up, up ! So high lived 
Eomney's bride." 

I think my readers will agree with me that, if we 
had not seen this in the form of poetry, we might have 
had some difficulty in distinguishing it from prose. 

Marian Erie the needlewoman of St. Margaret 's- 
court, whom Eomney Leigh intended to marry for the 
benefit of mankind was not beautiful. You could 
not say whether her complexion was white or brown 
it changed like a mist, " according to being shone 
on more or less." Her hair had the same peculiarity 
of dubious tint. It 

Ban its opulence of curls 

In doubt 'twixt dark and bright, nor left you clear 
To name the colour. 

A small head, cheeks rather too thin, but dimpled, 
milky little teeth, and an infantile smile, complete the 
description of Komney's choice. That any good in the 
way of social reconcilement or the elevation of the 
masses could result from such a marriage is a thesis 
so obviously absurd that argument on the subject were 
thrown away. Eomney's scheme can be accounted for 


132 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

only on one supposition that his extreme softness of 
heart had resulted in, or had always "been accompanied 
by, softness of head. 

The character of Marian Erie is conceived on a 
principle so frequently exemplified by Dickens that 
it may be called the principle of the Dickens ideal. 
The conditions of birth and up-bringing are depicted 
as all but impossibly bad, and the human flower comes 
up amid squalor, hardship, and neglect, radiantly pure 
as a lily in paradise. Oliver Twist, born in a work- 
house, reared under the auspices of Noah Claypole, 
Fagin, and the Dodger, proves to be a pattern of in- 
destructible goodness. Marian Erie, the child of a 
father and a mother who reached the utmost limits of 
depravity, grew up with the qualities of an angel. 
Such an occurrence is not impossible. There are 
Oliver Twists and Marian Erles in the world. But 
ignorance, poverty, paternal and maternal wickedness 
and neglect, would be less malignant evils than they 
are if such characters, resisting evil as asbestos resists 
fire, were not very uncommon ; and it is generally felt 
that, in poems and novels, these immaculate person- 
ages are mere lay-figures, like the shepherds and 
shepherdesses of the stage, in whose delineation no 
very shrewd or searching knowledge of human nature 
is displayed. 

Marian Erie was born upon " the ledge of Malvern 
Hill to eastward, in a hut, built up at night to evade 
the landlord's eye, of mud and turf." Her father did 
random jobs which steadier workmen despised, looked 

Marian's Parents. 133 

after swine on commons, picked hops, assisted Welsh 


When a drove 

Of startled horses plunged into the mist 
Below the mountain-road, and sowed the wind 
With wandering neighings. 

He drank, slept, cursed his wife when there was no 
money to buy drink; and the woman " heat her baby 
in revenge for her own broken heart." The little girl 
picked up some knowledge at a Sunday-school, and 
felt vaguely that there was " some grand blind love" 
in the heavens when the sun dazzled her eyes. One 
day her mother, who had just been badly beaten, tried 
to introduca her to a life of infamy. Shrieking with 
horror, she started away and bounded down the hill- 

They yelled at her, 

As famished hounds at a hare. She heard them yell, 
She felt her name hiss after her from the hills, 
Like shot from guns. On, on. And now she had cast 
The voices off with the uplands. On. Mad fear 
Was running in her feet and killing the ground ; 
The white roads curled as if she burnt them up, 
The green fields melted, wayside trees fell back 
To make room for her. Then her head grew vexed, 
Trees, fields, turned on her, and ran after her ; 
She heard the quick pants of the hills behind. 
The keen air pricked her neck. She had lost her feet, 
Could run no "more, yet, somehow, went as fast 
The horizon, red 'twixt steeples in the east, 
So sucked her forward, forward, while her heart 
Kept swelling, swelling, till it swelled so big 
It seemed to fill her body ; then it burst, 
And overflowed the world^and swamped the light, 
" And now I am dead and safe," thought Marian Erie 
She had dropped, she had fainted. 

134 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

Marian never saw her mother again. Picked out of 
a ditch by a passing waggoner, she was carried to a 
hospital in London. That was exactly the kind of 
place in which she was likely to fall under the notice 
of Konmey Leigh. It would not have been easy for 
him to go lower in the social scale in order to find a 
bride who, as his wife, might represent the common 
people standing on a level of perfect equality with the 
ladies and gentlemen of England. The marriage was 
to be celebrated in the aristocratic chapel of St. 
James's. Eomney Leigh invited a brilliant circle 
of peers, peeresses, and leaders in society to witness 
the ceremony, not forgetting to ask Marian's fellow- 
inmates of St. Margaret 's-court to grace the wedding, 
and feast thereafter on Hampstead-heath. Under 
these circumstances, the party assembled in the 
church was of a very unusual kind. 

Of course the people came in uncompelled, 

Lame, blind, and worse sick, sorrowful, and worse, 

The humours of the peccant social wound 

All pressed out, poured out upon Pimlico, 

Exasperating the unaccustomed air 

With hideous interfusion : you'd suppose 

A finished generation, dead of plague, 

Swept outward from their graves into the sun, 

The moil of death upon them. What a sight ! 

A holiday of miserable men 

Is sadder than a burial-day of kings. 

They clogged the streets, they oozed into the church 

In a dark, slow stream, like blood. To see that sight, 

The noble ladies stood up in their pews, 

Some pale from fear, a few as red for hate, 

Some simply curious, some just insolent. 

The Wedding Guests. 135 

And some in wondering scorn, " What next ? What next? " 

These crushed their delicate rose-lips from the smile 

That misbecame them in a holy place, 

With broidered hems of perfumed handkerchiefs ; 

Those passed the salts with confidence of eyes 

And simultaneous shiver of moire silk ; 

While all the aisles, alive and black with heads, 

Crawled slowly toward the altar from the street, 

As bruised snakes crawl and hiss out of a hole 

With shuddering involutions, swaying slow 

From right to left, and then from left to right, 

In pants and pauses. What an ugly crest 

Of faces rose upon you everywhere 

From that crammed mass ! You did not usually 

See faces like them in the open day : 

They hide in cellars, not to make you mad 

As Komney Leigh is. Faces ! O my God, 

We call those, faces ? Men's and women's, ay, 

And children's ; babies, hanging like a rag 

Forgotten on their mother's neck poor mouths, 

Wiped clean of mother's milk by mother's blow, 

Before they are taught her cursing. 

It is not without rather severe disappointment that 
on examining Aurora Leigh with more care and 
closeness than I had brought to the task for many 
years, I have found the poem so much more faulty 
than previous readings led me to expect. The 
metaphoric richness, the wealth of picturesque phrase 
and coloured word, the animation, and even, on the 
whole, the melody, of Aurora Leigh are heyond praise. 
But it lacks modulation, variety, repose. There are, 
indeed, passages in which the thoughts and images 
fairly float themselves away in the sphere-dance of 
harmony ; wonderful passages, in which it is again 
demonstrated that true melody in language is but the 

136 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

rhythmic cadence natural to a mood of imaginative 
thought, sufficiently elevated, calm, and mighty. But 
over wide spaces of the poem the ear finds no delight. 
The crowding, the vehemence, the feverish haste and 
impatience, which so frequently characterise Mr. 
Kingsley's novels, can hardly fail to be recalled by 
many passages. The heroine invariably talks like 
one of Mr. Kingsley's characters. There is a lack 
of tenderer strains to refresh and relieve the ear; 
the atmosphere wants calm, the landscape wants per- 

But it is with the poorness of the human element 
throughout the poem that I have, in the last reading, 
been most painfully impressed. I am indeed not so 
sure as I once was that Bomney Leigh could not 
have existed. He had a bee in his bonnet, but genius 
may be combined with almost lunatic unpracticality. 
But Marian Erie is a fancy portrait, and Lady Walde- 
mar is an impossibility. The only personages in 
the poem whose existences are thoroughly realised 
are Aurora and the aunt. Agreeable or disagreeable, 
Aurora has poetic vitality. Mrs. Browning made use, 
without question, of her own experiences, in deline- 
ating the successful authoress ; and though we cannot 
impute to Aurora the high qualities of Mrs. Brown- 
ing, or to Mrs. Browning the flightiness and flip- 
pancy and tone of conventional satire of her heroine, 
there are unmistakable traits of reality in the girl. 
The aunt, too, is a typical English lady of a certain 
class, and might, with more patient finish and more 

Defects of "Aurora Leigh." 137 

tender and intelligent sympathy, have been a lovely 
figure. But Marian Erie has no life that we can 
call her own. She is, and does, what the poet- 
novelist wants, neither more nor less, exactly as a 
woman of wood, in an artist's studio, wears black or 
white, red or green, a widow's cap or a huntress's 
feather, according to the painter's design and grouping. 
Lady Waldemar is not only an extravagant caricature 
of aristocratic coarseness in speech, but superficial 
and incorrect as a study of human nature. It was 
most unlikely that she should have fallen in love with 
such a man as Bomney Leigh, yet a woman's 
freakishness may account for that ; but has a clever, 
unprincipled, strong-willed, intriguing woman no 
cunning? Could Lady Waldemar have been so 
childishly maladroit and indelicate, as to let both 
Aurora and Marian into the secret of her love ? In 
real life such an one as Lady Waldemar would be the 
last person in the world to wear her heart upon her 

If the individuals described in the poem yield so 
little satisfaction', the classes described make no 
amends. Mrs. Browning fails both with the aristocracy 
and with the poor. We have seen her account of the 
reception met with by Aurora when she visited Marian 
Erie in St. Margaret's-court, and her description of 
the crowd of poor people assembled in the chapel of 
St. James's to see Komney Leigh wed his plebeian 
bride. That Aurora should have been insulted in 
entering a house in St. Margaret's-court is of course 

138 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

possible ; but I think that all who have engaged in 
visiting the poor in their own dwellings will admit that 
such an occurrence is in a high degree improbable. It 
cannot be said of the English poor that they are slow 
to recognise the wish to do them good, or to recipro- 
cate kindly feeling. The hideous badness, the rabid 
ill-temper, attributed to the crowd that went from St. 
Giles's to see Marian Erie married to Romney Leigh, 
prove that Mrs. Browning had no real knowledge of 
the London poor. Romney Leigh, a gentleman of 
birth and wealth, spending his money for the benefit 
of the destitute and miserable, and proposing to show 
his sense of the brotherhood of humanity by marrying 
a needlewoman, would have been the darling of the 
multitude. They would have thought him a fool, but 
would have loved him for all that. Instead of coming 
to the wedding in foul rags, they would have come in 
the best things they could buy, beg, or borrow. They 
and their babies would have been well washed at 
least ; . their faces would have been as red as cherries 
or strawberries with satisfaction and jollity ; their 
temper would have been in a state of radiant good- 
ness, not only on account of the delightful wedding 
and the expected feast, but from that appreciation of 
the humour of the whole affair which a London 
crowd would assuredly have, displayed. Had such a 
celebration as the marriage of Romney Leigh and 
Marian Erie ever taken place, the appearance of the 
crowd would most certainly have suggested to no one 
that " you had stirred up hell to heave its lowest dreg 

Aristocratic Talk. 139 

fiends uppermost." The absence of the element of 
humour in Mrs. Browning's mental composition is 
painfully conspicuous in these delineations, and is 
indeed fatal to their success. 

So much for the class represented in this marriage 
on the side of Marian Erie. Now for the class repre- 
sented by Bomney Leigh. Aurora was placed by the 
bridegroom beside the altar-stair, " where he and 
other noble gentlemen and high-born ladies waited 
for the bride." Noble gentleman and high-born 
ladies, the friends of Eomney Leigh, ought to have 
been favourable representatives of the English 
aristocracy. Some of them, however, had been asked 
to be present by Lady Waldemar, and the reader can 
make what allowance he pleases for their talk on 
that account. Let us take a sample of it. 

It was early : there was time 
For greeting and the morning's compliment ; 
And gradually a ripple of women's talk 
Arose and fell, and tossed about a spray 
Of English s's, soft as a silent hush, 
And, notwithstanding, quite as audible 
As louder phrases thrown out by the men. 
" Yes, really, if we've need to wait in church, 
We've need to talk there."" She ? 'Tis Lady Ayr, 
In blue not purple ! that's the dowager." 
" She looks as young." " She flirts as young, you mean. 
Why, if you had seen her upon Thursday night, 
You'd call Miss Norris modest."" You again ! 
I waltzed with you three hours back. Up at six, 
Up still at ten : scarce time to change one's shoes. 
I feel as white and sulky as a ghost, 
So pray don't speak to me, Lord Belcher." " No, 
I'll look at you instead, and it's enough 

140 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

While you have that face." " In church, my lord ! fie, fie I " 
" Adair, you stayed for the Division ? " " Lost 
By one." " The devil it is ! I'm sorry for 't. 

And if I had not promised Mrs. Grove " 

" You might have kept your word to Liverpool." 

" Constituents must remember, after all, 

We're mortal." " We remind them of it." " Hark, 

The bride comes ! Here she comes, in a stream of milk ! " 

" There ! Dear, you are asleep still ; don't you know 

The five Miss Granvilles ? Always dressed in white 

To show they're ready to be married." " Lower ! 

The aunt is at your elbow." " Lady Maud, 

Did Lady Waldemar tell you she had seen 

This girl of Leigh's ? " " No, wait. 'Twas Mrs. Brookes 

Who told me Lady Waldemar told her 

No, 'twasn't Mrs. Brookes." 

Such tattle, whether uttered by aristocrats or by 
democrats, was surely not worthy of poetical record, 
and we may, I think, cherish the belief that it is 
impossibly vulgar and impossibly trivial. 

With no better entertainment than such conversa- 
tion, the ladies and gentlemen naturally grew impa- 
tient for the appearance of Marian Erie, and for the 
commencement of the ceremony. At length Komney 
stood forward, a letter in his hand, and, with face of 
appropriate ghostliness and ghastliness, announced 
that the girl had disappeared and that there would be 
no marriage. " I am very weak," he said, which was 
true. " I meant but only good," he added, which was 
also true, but little to the purpose. 

My friends, you are all dismissed. Go, eat and drink 
According to the program me, and farewell. 

So curt a dismissal was barely courteous, and the 
crowd, tired with waiting, did not receive it favour- 

In the Church. 141 

ably. The cry rose that the girl had had foul play. 
One Amazon of logical mind thought that the thing 
was too plain to be doubted. 

Disappear ! 

Who ever disappears except a ghost ? 
And who believes a story of a ghost ? 
I ask you, would a girl go off, instead 
Of staying to be married ? A fine tale ! 
A wicked man, I say, a wicked man ! 
For my part I would rather starve on gin 
Than make my dinner on his beef and beer. 

To this woman the crowd gave assent. A rush 
was made upon Eomney. Clamour of battle and 
noise as of fifty Donnybrooks arose in the church. 
Fine ladies shrieked or swooned, or " madly fled " 
and fell, " trod screeching underneath the feet of 
those who fled and screeched." Hearing the wild 
cries of the mob, inciting itself to pull down Bomney 
and' kill him, Aurora rushes into the middle of the 
fray, to save him, or rather would have done so, 
had she not been caught back by some one. The 
rest goes without saying. She fainted; the police 
succeeded in quelling the tumult ; and the sublime 
scheme for the union of class with class went the 
way of all soap-bubbles. Romney, who was only too 
good so good as to be good for nothing, says the 
shrewd Spanish proverb modestly accused himself of 
having been the ruin of his banished bride. 

The poor child ! 

Poor Marian ! 'twas a luckless day for her, 
When first she chanced on my philanthropy. 

Where'all is improbable to the verge of pantomime, 

142 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

it seems idle to specify any one improbability ; but it 
is difficult to imagine anything more unlikely to 
happen than that Marian Erie should have left 
Eomney in the lurch on the eve of her marriage. She 
always speaks of him with ardent enthusiasm ; his 
step on the stair is music to her ear ; she has no term 
to suit him but angel ; and yet a few glozing words 
from Lady Waldemar suffice to persuade her to leave 
the country without bidding him good-bye. Marian 
Erie would not only have been devoid of feminine 
ambition, pride, hope, and passion, but would have 
been more stupidly blind to Lady Waldemar's motives 
than any daughter of Eve, not a born idiot, could be, 
if she had permitted the fine lady to cheat her so 
easily out of a husband. Of course the pretext was 
that Eomney would be unhappy with Marian and 
supremely happy with Lady Waldemar; but she 
would be a strange woman who could be persuaded by 
a rival that the man who had chosen her must be 
wretched in spite of her wifely devotion to him, and 
that she could never be happy as his wife. It is im- 
portant to observe also that, in arguing Marian into 
the desertion, Lady Waldemar gives no proof of that 
inexpressible adroitness of logic and rhetoric, by which 
Shakespeare enables us to understand how his bad 
people carry out their plots. And even if we grant 
that Lady Waldemar might have prevailed upon 
Marian Erie to decline the match, is it credible that 
her ladyship would have timed the explosion for the 
wedding-day, thus giving the utmost publicity to 

Improbability of the Plot. 143 

the affair? Would she, last of all, have allowed 
Marian to inform Romney of her departure in a 
letter in which Lady Waldemar was said to have 
come nine times to see her, and was unmistakahly 
referred to as an " over-generous friend," who had 
promised to care for Marian and keep her happy? 
Having condescended to steep the incidents and 
characters of a sensation novel in the empyrean 
colours of her genius, Mrs. Browning does not manage 
her plot with the ingenuity of a tenth-rate novelist. 

Aurora now addresses herself with fresh earnestness 
to literature, but she is haunted more than ever hy the 
thought of Romney. She has come round to her 
lover's opinion, which also was Goethe's, that women 
work for the individual or for the family, not for 
the race, an opinion which, as we saw, she formerly 
renounced and resented. 

There it is ; 

We women are too apt to look to one, 
Which proves a certain impotence in art. 
We strain our natures at doing something great, 
Far less because it's something great to do, 
Than, haply, that we so commend ourselves 
As being not small, and more appreciable 
To some one friend. 

She determines that she will work as a true artist. 
She will " have no traffic with the personal thought in 
Art's pure temple." She will aim, as men aim, at the 
highest excellence, and if she fail, she bids her critics 
tell her so, and honour her " with truth, if not with 
praise." Then she dashes into criticism of her own 

144 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

works, and her criticism is, as usual, masterly. The 
following passage will bear a second or even a third 
reading. It presents Mrs. Browning's view of art as 
concerned essentially with reality, not with the fan- 
tastic architecture of the brain, even if that architec- 
ture is so beautiful as the mythology of Greece, a 
view which she had already embodied in her noble 
poem on the gods of Hellas. The passage touches also 
upon the doctrine of poetic symbolism in its applica- 
tion to the world and all that it contains ; every flower, 
and star, and stream being, for the poet, a word or 
text in a volume filled with glorious emblems. 

In that descriptive poem called " The Hills " 

The prospects were too far and indistinct. 

'Tis true my critics said, " A fine view that ! " 

The public scarcely cared to climb the book 

For even the finest ; and the public's right 

A tree's mere firewood, unless humanised ; 

Which well the Greeks knew when they stirred the bark 

With close-pressed bosoms of subsiding nymphs, 

And made the forest-rivers garrulous 

With babble of gods. For us, we are called to mark 

A still more intimate humanity 

In this inferior nature, or ourselves 

Must fall like dead leaves trodden under foot 

By veritable artists. Earth, shut up 

By Adam, like a fakir in a box 

Left too long buried, remained stiff and dry, 

A mere dumb corpse, till Christ the Lord came down, 

Unlocked the doors, forced open the blank eyes, 

And used His kingly chrisms to straighten out 

The leathery tongue turned back into the throat ; 

Since when she lives, remembers, palpitates 

In every limb, aspires in every breath, 

Embraces infinite relations. Now 

Philosophical Criticism. 145 

We want no half-gods, Panomphoean Joves, 

Fauns, Naiads, Tritons, Oreads, and the rest, 

To take possession of a senseless world 

To unnatural vampire-uses. See the earth 

The body of our body, the green earth 

Indubitably human, like this flesh 

And these articulated veins through which 

Our heart drives blood ! There's not a flower of spring 

That dies ere June but vaunts itself allied 

By issue and symbol, by significance 

And correspondence, to that spirit- world 

Outside the limits of our space and time 

Whereto we are bound. Let poets give it voice 

With human meanings ; else they miss the thought, 

And henceforth step down lower, stand confessed 

Instructed poorly for interpreters, 

Thrown out by an easy cowslip in the text. 

Even so my pastoral failed ; it was a book 

Of surface-pictures pretty, cold, and false 

With literal transcript the worse done, I think, 

For being not ill- done. Let me set my mark 

Against such doings, and do otherwise. 

This strikes me. If the public whom we know, 

Could catch me at such admissions, I should pass 

For being right modest. Yet how proud we are, 

In daring to look down upon ourselves ! 

She proceeds to discuss the question of the fitness 
of the present age to he poetically treated. " Thinkers 
scout " our time, and poets abound " who scorn to 
touch it with a finger-tip." They call it an age of 
pewter, of scum, of mere transition. All this she 
declares to he the wrong thinking that makes poor 
poems, and she illustrates, by a very fine poetical 
figure, the tendency of the people of each successive 
age to think their own age trivial. 

Every age, 
Through being held too close, is ill-discerned 


146 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

By those who have not lived past it. We'll suppose 

Mount Athos carved, as Persian Xerxes schemed, 

To some colossal statue of a man : 

The peasants, gathering brushwood in his ear, 

Had guessed as little of any human form 

Up there, as would a flock of browsing goats. 

They'd have, in fact, to travel ten miles off 

Or ere the giant image broke on them, 

Full human profile, nose and chin distinct, 

Mouth, muttering rhythms of silence up the sky, 

And fed at evening with the blood of suns ; 

Grand torso, hand, that flung perpetually 

The largess of a silver river down 

To all the country pastures. 'Tis even thus 

With times we live in, evermore too great 

To be apprehended near. 

She bids poets, if they can sing at all, sing " this 
live, throbbing age, that brawls, cheats, maddens, 
calculates, aspires." For her own part, she says that 
she worked with the true earnestness of the artist. 
" With no amateur's irreverent haste and busy idle- 
ness," did she produce her book. Not failing of recog- 
nition, and partially succeeding in what she aimed at, 
she nevertheless was sad. The womanhood in her 
called and craved for something more than art, for 
affection, for love, for home. 

O supreme Artist, who as sole return 

For all the cosmic wonder of Thy work, 

Demandest of us just a word, a name, 

" My Father ! " Thou hast knowledge, only Thou, 

How dreary 'tis for women to sit still 

On winter nights by solitary fires, 

And hear the nations praising them far off, 

Too far! ay, praising our quick sense of love, 

Our very heart of passionate womanhood, 

Fame and Love. 147 

Which could not beat so in the verse without 
Being present also in the unkissed lips, 
And eyes undried because there's none to ask 
The reason they grow moist. 

To sit alone, 

And think, for comfort, how, that very night, 
Affianced lovers, leaning face to face 
With sweet half-listenings for each other's breath, 
Are reading haply from some page of ours, 
To pause with a thrill, as if their cheeks had touched, 
When such a stanza, level to their mood, 
Seems floating their own thought out " So I feel 
For thee " " And I, for thee : " this poet knows 
What everlasting love is ! how, that night, 
A father, issuing from the misty roads 
Upon the luminous round of lamp and hearth 
And happy children, having caught up first 
The youngest there until it shrunk and shrieked 
To feel the cold chin prick its dimples through 
With winter from the hills, may throw i' the lap 
Of the eldest (who has learnt to drop her lids 
To hide some sweetness newer than last year's) 
Our book and cry, "Ah you, you care for rhymes ; 
So here be rhymes to pore on under trees, 
When April comes to let you ! I've been told 
They are not idle as so many are, 
But set hearts beating pure as well as fast : 
It's yours, the book ; I'll write your name injt, 
That so you may not lose, however lost 
In poet's lore and charming reverie, 
The thoughts of how your father thought of you 
In riding from the town." 

Fame "the love of all " is, the woman-poet admits, 
" but a small thing to the love of one." The love of Kom- 
ney seemed meanwhile to be finally lost to Aurora by 
his marriage to Lady Waldemar, which she believed to 
have taken place about this time or soon after. She 
resolved to leave England and revisit her native Italy, 


148 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

taking Paris in her way. In Paris she meets with 
Marian Erie. The girl had been subjected to infamous 
treatment, and, without any fault of hers, had become 
a mother. The woman to whose care Lady Waldemar 
had committed her had turned out to be diabolically 
bad, but there is no reason to suppose that the worst 
horror in Marian's tragedy had been contemplated by 
her ladyship. Aurora and Marian go on to Italy in 
company. The lines descriptive of Aurora's night- 
watch on deck, as she sails along the Mediterranean 
coast and looks out for Italy, are, like all the descrip- 
tive passages in this book, full of the loveliest poetry. 

I sate upon the deck and watched all night, 
And listened through the stars for Italy. 
Sate silent : I could hear my own soul speak, 
And had my friend, for Nature comes sometimes 
And says, "I am ambassador for God." 
I felt the wind soft from the land of souls ; 
The old miraculous mountains heaved in sight, 
One straining past another along the shore, 
The way of grand dull Odyssean ghosts 
Athirst to drink the cool blue wine of seas 
And stare on voyagers. Peak pushing peak 
They stood : I watched beyond that Tyrian belt 
Of intense sea betwixt them and the ship, 
Down all their sides the misty olive-woods 
Dissolving in the weak congenial moon, 
And still disclosing some brown convent-tower 
That seems as if it grew from some brown rock, 
Or many a little lighted village, dropt 
Like a fallen star, upon so high a point, 
You wonder what can keep it in its place 
From sliding headlong with the waterfalls 
Which drop and powder all the myrtle-groves 
With spray of silver. Thus my Italy 
Was stealing on us. Genoa broke with day ; 

How To Read "Aurora Leigh." 

The Doria's long pale palace striking out 

From green hills in advance of the white town, 

A marble finger dominant to ships, 

Seen glimmering through the uncertain gray of dawn. 

How Eomney follows Aurora and Marian to Italy 
how he still proposes to marry Marian how Aurora 
and he continue at cross purposes with each other 
how Marian declines to accept Bomney a second time 
and how the cousins at last make it up, and finish 
the poem with a burst of commonplaces, gloriously 
versified, about " the love of wedded souls " my 
readers must learn for themselves. Perhaps it would 
be no bad advice to those who wish to make Aurora 
Leigh the means of knowing Mrs. Browning in her 
strength and not in her weakness, to dip into it here 
and there, to dwell upon its poetic beauty as distin- 
guished from its qualities as a novel, and thus to get 
rid of its plot altogether. You cannot read in it too 
often you are in no danger of exhausting its 
treasures ; but you may read it too long at a time. 
There is no end to its good things its pithy, epigram- 
matic sayings, its felicities of metaphor and picture. 

Wolffs an atheist ; 
And if the Iliad fell out, as he says, 
By mere fortuitous concourse of old songs, 
We'll guess as much, too, for the universe. 

A tree's mere firewood, unless humanised. 

Let us pray 
God's grace to keep God's image in repute. 

Art's the witness of what IS 

Beyond this show. If this world's show were all, 
Mere imitation would be all in Art. 

150 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

We should be ashamed to sit beneath those stars, 
Impatient that we're nothing. 

Art is much, but love is more. 
O Art, my Art, thou'rt much, but Love is more ! 
Art symbolises heaven, but Love is God 
And makes heaven. 

Here is a metaphysical snatch, in which metaphysics 
and poetry are so mixed and mingled, and yet so fitly 
wedded together, that we can hardly tell which is 
crimson and which cloud : 

No lily-muffled hum of a summer bee 

But finds some coupling with the spinning stars ; 

No pebble at your foot but proves a sphere ; 

No chaffinch but implies the cherubim : 

And, glancing on my own thin, veined wrist, 

In such a little trernour of the blood 

The whole strong clamour of a vehement soul 

Doth utter itself distinct. Earth's crammed with heaven, 

And every common bush afire with God : 

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes ; 

The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries, 

And daub their natural faces unaware 

More and more, from the first similitude. 

Or take this solemn and profoundly Christian 
prayer : 

Alas, long-suffering and most patient God, 
Thou need'st be surelier God to bear with us 
Than even to have made us ! Thou, aspire, aspire 
From henceforth for me ! Thou who hast, Thyself, 
Endured this flesh-hood, knowing how, as a soaked 
And sucking vesture, it would drag us down 
And choke us in the melancholy deep, 
Sustain me, that, with Thee, I walk these waves, 
Kesisting ! breathe me upward, Thou for me 
Aspiring, who are the Way, the Truth, the Life, 

Marian's Child. 151 

That no truth henceforth seem indifferent, 
No way to truth laborious, and no life, 
Not even this life I live, intolerable ! 

From these sublime heights, to take farewell of 
this [astonishing poem, we shall descend into the 
room in which Aurora Leigh and Marian Erie 
enjoy the woman's treat of having a long look at 
Marian's baby. 

I saw the whole room, I and Marian there 

Alone ? she threw her bonnet off, 
Then, sighing as 'twere sighing the last time, 
Approached the bed, and drew a shawl away : 
You could not peel a fruit you fear to bruise 
More calmly and more carefully than so, 
Nor would you find within, a rosier-flushed 

There he lay, upon his back, 
The yearling creature, warm and moist with life 
To the bottom of his dimples, to the ends 
Of the lovely tumbled curls about his face ; 
For since he had been covered over-much 
To keep him from the light-glare, both his cheeks 
Were hot and scarlet as the first live rose 
The shepherd's heart-blood ebbed away into, 
The faster for his love. And love was here 
An instant ! in the pretty baby-mouth, 
Shut close as if for dreaming that it sucked ; 
The little naked feet drawn up the way 
Of nestled birdlings ; everything so soft 
And tender, to the little holdfast hands, 
Which, closing on a finger into sleep, 
Had kept the mould oft. 

Ill closing the book, I feel that my extracts do it 
nothing like justice. It is starred with splendours like 

152 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

a clear night in June, or a morning meadow sown 
with orient pearl. 


" I am, of course, not acquainted," I remarked 
when, many years ago, I first had occasion to print 
my estimate of Mrs. Browning, " with the works of 
all great female writers, perhaps not even of many. 
But as you look towards the brow of a towering 
mountain, rising far over the clouds, and crowned with 
ancient snow, you may have an assurance, even though 
it rises from a plain, or, if amid lower hills, though 
you have not actually taken the elevation of each, that 
in height it is peerless. In the poems of Mrs. Brown- 
ing are qualities which admit of their being compared 
with those of the greatest men ; touches which only 
the mightiest give. These may not come often enough, 
or they may be too often associated with the spasm of 
woman's vehemence, to permit her a seat beside 
those mightiest. With the few sovereigns of litera- 
ture, the Homers, Shakespeares, Miltons, she will not 
rank. But in full recollection of Scott's vivacity, and 
bright, cheerful glow; of Byron's fervid passion and 
magnificent description ; of Wordsworth's majesty ; of 
Shelley's million-coloured fancy; of Coleridge's occa- 
sional flights right into the sun-glare; of Bailey's tropic 
exuberance, and of Tennyson's golden calm ; I yet 
hold her worthy of being mentioned with any poet of 
this century. She has the breadth and versatility of a 

Conclusion. 153 

man ; no sameliness, no one idea, no type character ; 
our single Shakespearean woman. In this I am 
agreed with by the author of The Baven, a critic of 
great acuteness and originality. ' Woman, sister,' 
says Thomas de Quincey, ' there are some things 
which you do not execute as well as your brother, 
man; no, nor ever will. Pardon me, if I doubt 
whether you will ever produce a great poet from your 
choirs, or a Mozart, or a Phidias, or a Michael Angelo, 
or a great scholar ; by which last is meant, not one 
who depends simply on an infinite memory, but also 
on an infinite and electrical power of combination, 
bringing together from the four winds, like the angel 
of the resurrection, what else were dust from dead 
men's bones, into the unity of breathing life. If you 
can create yourselves into any of these great creators, 
why have you not ? ' Mrs. Browning has exalted her 
sex; this passage was true." 

There is, perhaps, more of enthusiasm than of dis- 
crimination in these young-mannish sentences. Mrs. 
Browning I still hold to be, in the full sense of the 
term, a great poet, but I now see that De Quincey 
might have maintained the negative on that question 
with more weighty reasoning than I then surmised; 
and when I so confidently pronounced Mrs. Browning 
the greatest of women, fame was but beginning 
to whisper the name of George Eliot. I would 
now content myself with saying that, in fervour, 
melodiousness, and splendour of poetic genius, Mrs. 
Browning stands, to the best of my knowledge, first 

154 Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

among women ; that, in tunefulness, the distinctive 
quality of the poet, George Eliot is greatly her 
inferior ; but that, in knowledge of life, insight 
into character, comprehensiveness and penetration of 
thought, and the plastic energy by which the literary 
artist moulds his figures, she was not the equal of 
George Eliot. 




THE main impression derived from the works of 
Charlotte Bronte or Nicholls better known a 
quarter of a century ago as Currer Bell is that of 
vivid strength combined with moral vehemence. This 
is the idea Thackeray felicitously expresses when he 
calls her " an austere little Joan of Arc marching in 
upon us, and rebuking our easy lives, our easy 

While she lived, very little was known of her 
history ; and the announcement of her death, follow- 
ing swiftly upon that of her marriage, fell upon the 
public with a suddenness which added poignancy to 
the pang arising from the knowledge that a genius 
which, -ten years before, had not scaled the horizon, 
and which had shone for a time with piercing bril- 
liance, was already overtaken by the eclipse of death. 

158 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

It was in 1855, when the issue of the Crimean war 
was still undecided, that she died. " Even while the 
heart of the British nation " thus I wrote at the 
time " is filled to overflowing hy one great anguish 
and one great hope, a thrill of real sorrow will pass 
to every corner of the land with the tidings that Mrs. 
Nicholls, formerly Charlotte Bronte, and known to all 
the world as Currer Bell, is no more. But a few 
months ago we heard of her marriage. "We learned, 
with a smile of happy surprise, that the merciless 
derider of weak and insipid suitors had found a lord 
and master that the hand which drew the three 
worshipful ecclesiastics, Malone, Donne, and Sweet- 
ing, had been locked at the altar in that of a curate. 
And already the smile fades away in the sound of her 
funeral knell, leaving us to reflect, that all of fruit and 
flower which time might have matured in the garden 
of her genius has been nipped by the frost of death. 
There is something which strikes one as peculiarly 
touching in the death of Currer Bell. She seemed so 
full of animation, of vigour; life danced in her veins 
like new wine ; all she said was so fresh and stirring ; 
the child-look taking this for a grand world, worth 
living in, no place for whining was still on her face. 
The brave little woman! in whose works you could 
not point to a slovenly line, to an obscure or tarrying 
idea. You thought of her as combining the iron will 
of her little Jane with the peerless nature of her 
Shirley, the beautiful pantheress, the forest-born. 
She could have stood out under the lightning, to 

Thackeray's Opinion. 159 

trace, with firm pencil, its zigzags of crackling fire. 
And now she, too, is but a few handfuls of white 
dust ! Her step will never more be upon the loved 
wolds of Yorkshire, and the broad moors which she 
made classic by her genius. 

Her part in all the pomp that fills 
The circuit of the summer hills 
Is that her grave is green." 

Thackeray saw her in London, and the few words 
we have from him, whether descriptive of her person, 
or characterising the spirit of her books, are deeply 
interesting. ''Which of her readers," he asks, "has 
not become her friend? Who that has known her 
books has not admired the artist's noble English, the 
burning love of truth, the bravery, the simplicity, the 
indignation at wrong, the eager sympathy, the pious 
love and reverence, the passionate honour, so to speak, 
of the woman?" " I can only say of this lady, vidi 
tantum. I saw her first just as I rose out of an illness 
from which I had never thought to recover. I re- 
member the trembling little frame, the little hand, the 
great honest eyes. An impetuous honesty seemed to 
me to characterise the woman. Twice I recollect 
she took me to task for what she held to be errors in 
doctrine. Once about Fielding we had a disputation. 
She spoke her mind out. She jumped too rapidly to 
conclusions." Her judgment of London celebrities 
struck Thackeray as often premature; " but, perhaps," 
he confesses, " the city is rather angry at being 
judged." " She gave me the impression of being a 

160 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

very pure, and lofty, and high-minded person. A 
great and holy reverence of right and truth seemed 
to be with her always. Such, in our brief interview, 
she appeared to me." 

The memory of Charlotte Bronte is indissolubly 
associated with that of her sisters, Emily and Anne. 
Mrs. Gaskell's biography of Charlotte, an acknow- 
ledged masterpiece in that difficult branch of litera- 
ture, has set before the world in imperishable colours 
the little Haworth Parsonage, with its neighbouring 
graves and circling moors, the saturnine father, the 
unhappy son, and the three shy, pale, plain daughters 
marked for early death, that belonged to the immortals 
of the world. " What a story," says Thackeray 
again, " is that of that family of poets in their soli- 
tude yonder on the gloomy northern moors ! At nine 
o'clock at night, Mrs. Gaskell tells us, after evening 
prayers, when their guardian and relative had gone to 
bed, the three poetesses the three maidens, Charlotte, 
and Emily, and Anne Charlotte being ' the motherly 
friend and guardian to the other two ' began, like 
restless wild animals, to pace up and down their 
parlour, ' making out ' their wonderful stories, talking 
over plans and projects and thoughts of what was to 
be their future life." 

Perhaps, however, Mrs. Gaskell has conveyed an 
exaggerated impression of the gloom and desolation of 
the childhood of the Brontes. Mr. Wemyss Keid, 
who has made Charlotte Bronte and her sisters the 
subject of an admirably executed monograph, while 

The Joy of the Moors. 161 

acknowledging the great ability and value of Mrs. 
Gaskell's work, thinks that she has cast the shadow 
too deeply and too soon over the young Brontes. We 
have traces, in the earlier part of their lives, of what 
he justly calls " a wholesome, healthy happiness." 
No one, I am convinced, will wonder at the fact, who 
has had any experience of what a high moor on a 
summer day is to a child. My own first few years, 
after emerging from infancy, were passed among moors 
in the north of Scotland, hleaker than it might be 
easy to find in Yorkshire ; and the intense and inex- 
pressible sweetness of roamings among the heather in 
summer days remains with me to this hour as one of 
the supreme sensations of my life. This wild joy of 
the moorland is everywhere traceable in the Bronte 
books. The very soul of the music that lives, and will 
live for ever, in the works of the sisters, would have 
been absent, if they had not heard the song of the 
winds, and seen the race of the clouds, upon the York- 
shire moors. Mr. Wemyss Eeid, therefore, has done 
good service in counteracting the idea that their life at 
Haworth was altogether dreary and desolate. 

In respect of human companionship, however, the 
Bronte children were to be pitied . Their mother died 
when they were tiny things, and their aunt, who came 
to take care of them, was not fond of children, and had 
no motherly ways. The servant-of- all- work, Tabby, 
who assisted their aunt in the housekeeping, was the 
only other female inmate of the Parsonage ; and she, 
though evidently a rough Yorkshire-woman, had 


162 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

enough kindness of heart to commend her class to 
Charlotte and Emily, and thus to make the family 
servants about the most agreeahle people in their 

The father was peculiar. An Irishman by birth, 
and rejoicing in the thoroughly Irish name of Prunty 
Patrick Prunty he had cast off his Irish name and 
called England his adopted country. He was a Tory 
of the Wellington type ; and I have seen thanks to 
the courteous suggestion of Mr. Garnett, of the British 
Museum three letters, published by him in the Leeds 
Intelligencer newspaper, in January and February, 
1829, in which he discusses the question of Koman 
Catholic Emancipation. Not opposing all concession, 
he insists that, if Koman Catholics are admitted to 
the franchise, it will be necessary, in order to secure 
the Protestantism of the realm, to vest in the King a 
power " summarily to remove from both Houses of 
Parliament, and from seats on the judicial bench, all 
Roman Catholics, when in his judgment they were 
about to encourage measures subversive of our glorious 
Constitution in Church and State." This obviously 
inadmissible and, in fact, childish proposal enables us 
to gauge his sagacity and information as a politician ; 
and the general cast of his thought on political ques- 
tions may be further guessed from this incidental 
utterance : " Our limited Monarchy, which, though not 
altogether perfect, affords the most rational liberty of 
any other Government under the sun ; and comes, 
perhaps, as near to perfection as anything that can 

The Father. 163 

be devised by, or accommodated to, fallen mortals." 
This was written before Parliament was reformed, 
and when pocket boroughs and a good many other 
things were rotten in the state of England. 

Old Bronte is understood to be represented by 
Helstone, the Tory clergyman in Shirley, one of 
Charlotte's favourite characters. His Toryism was 
enthusiastically taken up by Charlotte, though I am 
not so sure as to Emily's political creed. " The 
election ! the election ! " wrote Charlotte to a friend in 
1835, " that cry has rung even among our lonely hills 
like the blast of a trumpet. . . . Under what 
banner have your brothers ranged themselves the 
Blue or the Yellow ? Use your influence with them, 
entreat them, if it be necessary, on your knees, to 
stand by their country and religion in this day 
of danger ! " The vehemently Tory Blackwood's 
Magazine was naturally prized in the parsonage of 
Haworth, and the good stories it contained, as well 
as its political articles, were doubtless not without 
effect on the future novelists. The children were 
not allowed to associate with the children of the 
villagers, and grew up shy and sensitive, but not 

Patrick Bronte's wife, as we learn from Mrs. 
Gaskell and Mr. Wemyss Keid, was cast in a very 
different mould from that of her husband. He was 
tall, strong, full of wiry energy and rugged force, a 
man against whom Fortune, with all her buffetings, 
had no chance, who stood the winter of the moors for 


164 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

more than half a century, saw his children die around 
him, and lived himself to he eighty-five. She was a 
small woman, of the Cornish type of Celt, frail and 
fine. Like enough, she may have been " a miracle 
of symmetry, a miniature of loveliness, all grace 
summed up and closed in little ; " certainly she was 
a marked contrast to that Irish Hercules, Patrick 
Bronte. There is no reason to doubt that the tall man 
loved his delicate and gentle wife. "A few days since" 
thus Charlotte writes in 1850 " a little incident 
happened which curiously touched me. Papa put into 
my hands a little packet of letters and papers, telling 
me that they were mamma's, and that I might read 
them. I did read them, in a frame of mind I cannot 
describe. The papers were yellow with time, all 
having been written before I was born. It was strange 
now to peruse, for the first time, the records of a 
mind whence my own sprang ; and most strange, and 
at once sad and sweet, to find that mind of a truly 
fine, pure, and elevated order. They were written to 
papa before they were married. There is a rectitude, 
a refinement, a constancy, a modesty, a sense, a 
gentleness about them indescribable." It may be that 
some of the finest veining in the genius of the sisters 
was due to their mother. But we cannot suppose 
that Bronte treated her with much kindness and 
sympathy, for this was not in his nature ; and in 
the freakishness of his jealous pride his conduct 
was sometimes harsh, as when he cut to pieces 
a dress with which she had been presented. She 

Old Bronte's Poems. 165 

died before reaching middle age. The children 
manifestly inherited the low stamina of their mother, 
as well as their father's fervid temperament and 
literary ambition. 

There is a little volume in the British Museum 
Library, entitled The Rural Minstrel : a Miscellany of 
Descriptive Poems, which was given to the world by 
the Eev. Patrick Bronte in 1813. At that date neither 
Anne, Emily, nor Charlotte was born. Forty-six years 
later, when all his children were dead, Mr. Bronte 
published a second volume, also tiny, styled simply 
Cottage Poems. The first was published at Halifax, 
the second at Bradford. I have glanced over both, 
and have not seen anything extraordinary in either. 
There is almost no trace of originality in thought, 
feeling, or imagery. A strong religious sentiment of 
the old Evangelical type the Grimshaw, Toplady, 
and Wilberforce type pervades the poems ; the Bible 
is the author's avowed model, authoritative and in- 
superable, both in matters of thought and of style ; 
Broad Church speculation, High Church enthusiasm, 
are alike absent. The versification is smooth, and 
the most observable, perhaps, of the characteristics 
of the writer is an unaffected, perpetual, child-like 
delight in the wayside beauties of Nature. He 
never tires of talking about birds and flowers and 
dewdrops ; and a fresh glimpse now and then shows 
that he does not always echo the chatter of books, 
but has cast his own eye lovingly on the things he 
rhymes about. 

166 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

The linnets sweetly sung 

On every fragrant thorn, 
Whilst from the tangled wood 
The blackbirds hailed the morn ; 
And, through the dew, 
Kan here and there, 
But half afraid, 
The startled hare. 

The first of these stanzas is hopelessly common- 
place, but the man who wrote the second must, I 
think, have watched with patient pleasure the gambol- 
lings of half-startled hares. The "ran here and there 
but half-afraid " is absolutely and exquisitely true to 
that air of half-domesticated security and familiarity 
with which a hare will frisk about upon a lawn, 
whither it has stolen from the adjoining wood or 
copse, on a clear, warm, dewy evening in June, while 
overhead the thrush, perched on the highest spray of 
the larch, is flooding the air with song. I speak from 
evening observation, but I doubt not it would hold 
good of early morning. The phenomena that fall to 
be chronicled about cottage doors were well known 
to the writer of the following verse, and he would 
scarcely have placed the accent so nicely on the right 
spot in the drake, if he had not possessed something of 
an eye for colour. 

And motley ducks 
Were waddling seen, 

And drake, with neck 
Of glossy green. 

We may safely conclude that the vein of poetry 
which belonged to Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, and 

The Father. 167 

of which, we have a trace in Branwell, was inherited. 
Old Bronte was a man of undeveloped genius ; and 
the fact that his genius was undeveloped, will probably 
account for his unsocial ways, his moody and fitful 
temper, and his trick of relieving his nervous tension 
by pistol-shooting. I have seen no reference by the 
Brontes to their father's poetry, nor does it strike me 
as unlikely that they may never have read it. He 
took his meals apart from his children, and though 
they regarded him with a feeling of respect not un- 
mixed with affection, he was not on terms of sympa- 
thetic intimacy with them. Neither Charlotte, Emily, 
nor Anne ever knew the ecstasy of such a moment as 
that remembered so vividly by Elizabeth Barrett 
Browning, when her father looked down upon " the 
poet at his knee," and rewarded her with a kiss. 



brother of the Bronte sisters, was in his 
boyhood the hope and darling of the household, but 
the promise of his early years was lamentably belied, 
and he died prematurely, an intellectual, as well as 
moral, wreck. It seems probable that the seeds of a 
mutinous and wilful disposition soon began to ger- 
minate in him, for his father, in a letter quoted by 
Mrs. Gaskell, refers to him, at a period when he 
cannot have been more than eight or nine, as " some- 
times a naughty boy." A father does not incidentally 
describe his son in that way without meaning a good 
deal. Old Bronte mentions that, thinking his children 
knew more than he had discovered, he put to them 
certain questions, which they were encouraged to 
answer by being placed behind a mask. The question 
addressed to his son was singularly inappropriate to 
the age of the boy. " I asked Bran well what was the 
best way of knowing the difference between the in- 

Branwell Bronte. 169 

tellects of man and woman ; he answered, * By con- 
sidering the difference between them as to their 
bodies.' " As Goethe had said almost exactly the 
same thing, Branwell may be supposed to have picked 
up the saying in some magazine ; but to have even 
noted such a remark at his age proves him, unless he 
spoke merely as a parrot, to have been a precocious 
perhaps morbidly precocious boy. There is reason 
to believe that he possessed a sufficient aptitude for 
drawing and painting to have made him, under 
favourable circumstances, an artist of distinction ; 
but a scheme for sending him to study in the 
Koyal Academy miscarried; and his general educa- 
tion appears to have been desultory and imperfect. 
Probably he read a good many books, and he learned 
to write in prose and verse with facility. This sufficed 
to make him a wonder among the rustics, commercial 
travellers, and small mill-owners of the West Eliding, 
and it is distressing to hear that, when the landlord 
of the village inn had his room tenanted with travellers 
or topers, he used to send for young Bronte to talk and 
drink with them. 

Mr. F. H. Grundy, in his recently-published Pictures 
of the Past, after declaring that Branwell " took an 
unusual fancy " to himself, and that he (Mr. Grundy) 
"continued, perhaps, his most confidential friend 
through good and ill until his death," proceeds to 
expatiate on his " wit, brilliance, attractiveness ; " but 
it would not take much of these qualities to produce 
an impression on the chance guests or local sots of the 

170 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

Haworth Black Bull Inn ; and nothing could be more 
stupid than the specimen which Mr. Grundy gives of 
his friend's conversational performances. The verses 
which he quotes from Bronte are also excessively poor, 
nor is there anything remarkable in the extracts from 
his prose letters. " Eemarkable," I mean, in a literary 
point of view ; for as revelations of the writer's moral 
character, they are remarkably painful. Mr. Grundy 
talks vaguely of the injustice done to his friend by 
Mrs. Gaskell, and assumes the part of a vindicator; 
but the result of his communications, whether in the 
form of his own remarks or in that of extracts from 
Bran well's letters, is to convey the impression of a 
much worse man than we derive from. Mrs. Gas-ken" s 
biography. Mrs. Gaskell leaves our sentiment of 
pity comparatively unrestrained in dealing with the 
sufferings of young Bronte ; his self-styled vindicator 
arouses the sterner sentiments of justice and indig- 
nation to contemplate a merited punishment. We 
used to think of Branwell as a good-natured, weak- 
willed lad, who, by miscellaneous reading, had turned 
his mind into a magazine of literary curiosities, who in- 
herited from his father the gift of Hibernian eloquence, 
who was enthusiastically social, and who thus became 
first the idol and then the victim of a circle of tipsy 
villagers. But Mr. Grundy quotes Bronte himself 
referring to " the grovelling carelessness, the malig- 
nant yet cold debauchery, the determination to find 
how far mind could carry body without both being 
chucked into hell," which marked his conduct at 

Branwell Bronte. 171 

a time when he had undertaken to discharge the 
duties of stationmaster on a railway. He threw (Mr. 
Grundy tells us) all the work on a porter, while he 
went carousing with brother sots, and " serious de- 
falcations " were the consequence. An inquiry fol- 
lowed; Bronte was acquitted of theft ; "but," says 
his vindicator, " was convicted of constant and 
culpable carelessness." 

In another of his Grundy letters, Bronte avows a 
breach of trust of a still more dark and treacherous 
nature. He says that for years he was on terms of 
disgraceful intimacy with the wife of a gentleman 
in whose family he acted as tutor. Mr. Wemyss 
Reid calls attention to a passage in Charlotte Bronte's 
first novel, The Professor, in which this circumstance 
is alluded to in terms of fervent condemnation. 
" Limited as had yet been my experience of life, I 
had once had the opportunity of contemplating, near 
at hand, an example of the results produced by a 
course of interesting and romantic domestic treachery. 
No golden halo of fiction was about this example : I 
saw it bare and real, and it was very loathsome. I 
saw a mind degraded by the practice of mean sub- 
terfuge, by the habit of perfidious deception, and a 
body depraved by the infectious influence of the vice- 
polluted soul. I had suffered much from the forced 
and prolonged view of this spectacle : those sufferings 
I did not now regret, for their simple recollection 
acted as a most wholesome antidote to temptation. 
They had inscribed on my reason the conviction that 

172 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

unlawful pleasure, trenching on another's rights, is 
delusive and envenomed pleasure its hollowness dis- 
appoints at the time, its poison cruelly tortures after- 
wards, its effects deprave for ever." 

In his nineteenth year (January, 1837), Bran well 
Bronte sent a letter to Wordsworth, enclosing a 
sample of his poetry. It is unmistakable that the 
adulation of his little circle had already mounted to 
the lad's brain, and that the conceit and vanity which 
at this age are of evil augury were in a high state of 
development. " My aim, sir," he wrote, "is to push 
out into the open world, and for this I trust not poetry 
alone that might launch the vessel, but could not 
bear her on ; sensible and scientific prose, bold and 
vigorous efforts in my walk of life, would give a 
farther title to the notice of the world ; and then 
again poetry ought to brighten and crown that name 
with glory ; but nothing of all this can be ever begun 
without means, and as I don't possess them, I must 
in every shape strive to gain them. Surely, in this 
day, when there is not a writing poet worth a six- 
pence, the field must be open, if a better man can 
step forward." Wordsworth appears to have taken 
no notice of this letter, and we may pretty con- 
fidently conjecture that glancing at the accom- 
panying verses, and finding them utterly void of 
merit, he put both letter and verses aside, with a 
smile of serene cynicism at the idea of so paltry a 
rhymester announcing himself as the probable poet 
of the future. 

Charlotte and Southey. 173 

A few weeks before Branwell wrote to Wordsworth, 
Charlotte had written to Southey. Mrs. Gaskell 
seems to have seen a copy of the letter, for she says 
that it contained " some high-flown expressions," but 
she annoyingly withholds it from her readers. She 
gives us Southey's reply, however, and it is worthy 
of that Bayard of literary chivalry. He has formed 
a very different estimate of the poetry of the day 
from that of the stripling of nineteen, who told 
Wordsworth that not a writing poet was worth six- 
pence. " Many volumes of. poems," he says, " are 
now published every year without attracting public 
attention, any one of which, if it had appeared half a 
century ago, would have obtained a high reputation 
for its author." Young Bronte's scornful dismissal 
of contemporary poetry as beneath notice proves 
either that he did not know what verse was being 
published, and therefore spoke with mere random 
impertinence, or that he had no critical judgment. 
Since Christopher North was a household word in 
Haworth Parsonage, and a copious selection from the 
early poems of Tennyson had been printed in Black- 
wood 's Magazine in North's famous critique on Ten- 
nyson, the latter seems to be the more probable 
supposition. The puerile arrogance, which had no 
effect upon Wordsworth, was likely to be very im- 
posing in the eyes of Bronte's audience in the Black 
Bull at Haworth ; for arrogant depreciation of others 
will always be accepted by foolish and ignorant 
persons that is to say, by a large proportion of 

174 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

mankind as proof of talent, spirit, and accomplish- 

While writing with the gentlest consideration for 
his correspondent, Southey advised Charlotte to banish 
every idea of literature as a profession, and to indulge 
in poetry only in moments of perfect leisure. "I," 
he wrote, " who have made literature my profession, 
and devoted my life to it, and have never for a moment 
repented of the deliberate choice, think myself, never- 
theless, bound in duty to caution every young man 
who applies as an aspirant to me for encouragement 
and advice, against taking so perilous a course." In 
many letters which have found their way into print, 
Mr. Carlyle has expressed a similar opinion to this of 
South ey's ; and I should think that it would be 
endorsed by ninety-nine out of every hundred men and 
women now earning their bread by literature. 

After pronouncing somewhat too peremptorily, that 
" literature cannot be the business of a woman's life, 
and it ought not to be," Southey proceeds to say that 
he does not disparage poetry, or forbid its cultivation. 
" I only exhort you so to think of it, and so to use it, as 
to render it conducive to your own permanent good. 
Write poetry for its awn sake not in a spirit of 
emulation, and not with a view to celebrity ; the less 
you aim at that the more likely you will be to deserve 
and finally to obtain it. So written, it is wholesome 
both for the heart and soul. It may be made the 
surest means, next to religion, of soothing the mind 
and elevating it. You may embody in it your best 

Charlotte and Southey. 175 

thoughts and your wisest feelings, and in so doing 
discipline and strengthen them." 

Charlotte replied to this letter with all the home- 
bred warmth of feeling, and all the artless simplicity, 
of an intelligent, good-hearted girl of twenty. " I 
cannot rest," she says, " till I have answered your 
letter, even though, hy addressing you a second time, 
I should appear a little intrusive ; but I must thank 
you for the kind and wise advice you have con- 
descended to give me." She sketches her present life 
and past history with the nicest selection of the 
essential points, and with self-evidencing fidelity to 
truth in every touch. " You kindly allow me to write 
poetry for its own sake, provided I leave undone 
nothing which I ought to do, in order to pursue that 
single, absorbing, exquisite gratification. I am afraid, 
sir, you think me very foolish. I know the first letter 
I wrote to you was all senseless trash from beginning 
to end ; but I am not altogether the idle dreaming 
being it would seem to denote. My father is a clergy- 
man of limited, though competent income, and I am 
the eldest of his children. He expended quite as 
much in my education as he could afford in justice to 
the rest. I thought it, therefore, my duty, when I left 
school, to become a governess.- In that capacity I find 
enough to occupy my thoughts all day long, and my 
head and hands, too, without having a moment's time 
for one dream of the imagination. In the evenings, I 
confess, I do think, but I never trouble any one else 
with my thoughts. I carefully avoid any appearance 

176 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

of pre-occupation and eccentricity, which might lead 
those I live amongst to suspect the nature of my 
pursuits. Following my father's advice who from 
my childhood has counselled me, just in the wise and 
friendly tone of your letter I have endeavoured not 
only attentively to observe all the duties a woman 
ought to fulfil, but to feel deeply interested in them. 
I don't always succeed, for sometimes when I'm 
teaching or sewing I would rather be reading or 
writing; but I try to deny myself, and my father's 
approbation amply rewards me for the privation. 
Once more allow me to thank you with sincere 
gratitude. I trust I shall never more feel ambitious to 
see my name in print ; if the wish should rise, I'll look 
at Southey's letter, and suppress it. It is honour 
enough for me that I have written to him, and received 
an answer. That letter is consecrated ; no one shall 
ever see it but papa and my brother and sisters. Again 
I thank you." 

The naivete of this is delicious. Fancy the future 
authoress of Jane Eyre and Shirley schooling herself 
to find occupation for all her faculties in her needle, 
and calmly resolving never to think of seeing her name 
in print. A dozen years after she wrote thus, 
Charlotte had taken her place with acclamation 
among the world's great women. The kind-hearted, 
noble Southey was evidently struck with her letter. 
He replied promptly and with much cordiality. 
" Your letter has given me great pleasure, and I 
should not forgive myself if I did not tell you so. 

Branwell Bronte. 177 

You have received admonition as considerately and as 
kindly as it was given. Let me now request that, if 
you ever should come to these Lakes while I am 
living here, you will let me see you." 

There is one sentence in Branwell Bronte's letter to 
Wordsworth which has a mournful significance. He 
has, he says, been writing a poem, in which he 
has "striven to develop strong passions and weak 
principles struggling with a high imagination and 
acute feelings, till, as youth hardens towards age, evil 
deeds and short enjoyments end in mental misery and 
bodily ruin." The words are a prophecy of his own 
fate. I have said that his conduct became such as 
to merit the sternest reprobation; but his fall was 
due to his misfortune as well as his fault. We may 
believe Mrs. Gaskell when she tells us that his im- 
pulses were originally praiseworthy, and that he 
showed strong family affection. What failed him was 
firm and judicious discipline, and he was in that 
situation which, beyond all others, makes want of 
discipline fatal. He was an only son in a family of 
daughters, brought up by an aunt who made him her 
favourite. "There are always," says Mrs. Gaskell, 
" peculiar trials in the life of an only boy in a family 
of girls. He is expected to act a part in life ; to do, 
while they are only to be ; and the necessity of their 
giving way to him in some things is too often ex- 
aggerated into their giving way to him in all, and thus 
rendering him utterly selfish." Never does the bitterest 
cruelty disguise itself in the garb of kindness so signally 


178 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

as when proud parents and loving sisters enfeeble, in a 
son and brother, that moral will on which depends all 
stability of character. Never, let me add, was the 
genial and guardian influence of sound moral con- 
ditions, in relation to youthful genius, more pointedly 
illustrated than by the ruin of the young man, and 
the emergence into fame of the young women, in this 
" family of poets." 

Branwell went from bad to worse until he fell into 
the criminal degradation on which Mr. Grundy has 
cast so dismal a light. From the time when he was 
dismissed his tutorship, he became a prey to the 
agonies of remorse alternating with forced outbursts 
of mirth. He had previously given way to intoxi- 
cation, he now became an opium-eater. His 
constitution gradually broke down, and, as the end 
approached, he proved an inexpressible affliction to his 
old father and his sisters. " For some time," writes 
Mrs. Gaskell, " before his death he had attacks of 
delirium tremens of the most frightful character ; he 
slept in his father's room, and he would sometimes 
declare that either he or his father should be dead 
before the morning. The trembling sisters, sick with 
fright, would implore their father not to expose 
himself to this danger ; but Mr. Bronte is no timid 
man, and perhaps he felt that he could possibly 
influence his son to some self-restraint, more by 
showing trust in him than by showing fear. The 
sisters often listened for the report of a pistol in the 
dead of the night, till watchful eye and hearkening 

Branwell's Death. 179 

ear grew heavy and dull with the perpetual strain upon 
their nerves. In the morning young Bronte would 
saunter out, saying, with a drunkard's incontinence of 
speech, ' The poor old man and I have had a terrible 
night of it ; he does his best the poor old man ! but 
it's all over with me.' ' What tragedy could be more 
drearily sad than that ? 

Charlotte and her sisters endured this great 
calamity with heroic fortitude. When Bran well died, 
the feelings with which they had regarded him in his 
boyhood returned, and not an angry syllable escaped 
from Charlotte's pen when she chronicled the event. 
" He was perfectly conscious till the last agony came 
on. His mind had undergone the peculiar change 
which frequently precedes death, two days previously ; 
the calm of better feelings filled it ; a return of natural 
affection marked his last moments. He is in God's 
hands now ; and the All-Powerful is likewise the All- 
Merciful. A deep conviction that he rests at last 
rests well after his brief, erring, suffering, feverish life 
fills and quiets my mind now. The final separation, 
the spectacle of his pale corpse, gave me more acute, 
bitter pain than I could have imagined. Till the last 
hour comes, we never know how much we can forgive, 
pity, regret a near relative. All his vices were and are 
nothing now. We remember only his woes." He 
died in the autumn of 1848. 





BKANWELL BKONTE proving a scapegrace, the 
three sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, 
seem to have let him pass beyond the circle of their 
fellowship, and were drawn into closer and intenser 
sympathy, into more exclusive and close-knit friend- 
ship, among themselves, than could well have linked 
them together if their brother had continued to occupy 
the place naturally belonging to him in their love and 
esteem. " The two human beings," wrote Charlotte, 
after the deaths of Anne and Emily, " who understood 
me, and whom I understood, are dead." She does not 
hint that her brother, who stood next to her in the 
family, ever understood her. At some indefinite 
period in their girlhood, which Charlotte leaves us to 
guess at from the phrase, "very early," the three 
sisters discovered that they possessed, each and all, 
the gift of literary expression, and " cherished the 
dream of one day being authors." There was 
motherly, managing Charlotte, the eldest ; there was 
modest, nun-like Anne, the youngest ; and between 
the two, different from both, stood the deep-thinking, 

The Three Sisters. 181 

shy, intense, unsocial Emily, content to be subordi- 
nate to Charlotte in all ordinary matters, leaning upon 
ner Emily was the taller and thinner of the two 
in walks, and trusting to her to do all the speaking 
to strangers, but hiding in her own breast an origi- 
nality weird and morbid, yet more intrepid, thorough- 
going, and imaginative even than Charlotte's. 

The strange girls were not popular with their neigh- . 
bours. Emily in particular was held by the Haworth 
people to be forbidding. Their personal appearance 
if we may trust Mr. Grundy, and I should think 
that on such a point, allowing for a dash of flippancy 
and caricature, we may believe him was not attrac- 
tive. "Distant and distrait, large of nose, small of 
figure, red of hair, prominent of spectacles ; showing 
great intellectual development, but with eyes con- 
stantly cast down, very silent, painfully retiring," 
such is his picture of the group. The " eyes con- 
stantly cast down" I cannot but think apocryphal; 
Charlotte at least could hold up her head when she 
chose ; but perhaps the sisters did not experience from 
the presence of Mr. Grundy that " eye-brightening " 
influence, which makes "the massed clouds roll" from 
the brow. 

An honest stationer in Haworth gave Mrs. Gaskell 
a much kindlier account of the Misses Bronte. " They 
used to buy a great deal of writing-paper," he said ; 
and he would " wonder whatever they did with 
so much." When out of paper for want of capital 
"I was always," he says, "short of that" he 

182 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

feared their coming, "they seemed so distressed about 
it." The good-natured fellow would walk ten miles 
" for half a ream of paper," rather than disappoint 
them. "I did so like them to come," he goes 
on, " when I had anything for them ; they were 
so much different te anybody else; so gentle and 
kind, and so very quiet." He was conscious of 
no repulsiveness in their demeanour. Charlotte, 
however, seems to have been more affable than the 
others. She " sometimes would sit and inquire about 
our circumstances so kindly and feelingly." We may 
conclude, therefore, that it was not wholly, if at all, 
from their unsociable character, but because they 
lacked sympathetic neighbours, that the Bronte 
sisters lived so recluse a life at Haworth. 

It was a great day for the sisters when, in the 
autumn of 1845, Charlotte " accidentally lighted on a 
MS. volume of verse " in Emily's handwriting. " Of 
course," she says, " I was not surprised, knowing 
that she could and did write verse. I looked it over, 
and something more than surprise seized me a deep 
conviction that these were not common effusions, nor 
at all like the poetry women generally write. I 
thought them condensed and terse, vigorous and 
genuine. To my ear they had also a peculiar music, 
wild, melancholy, and elevating." So far as it goes, 
this is a singularly just critique of Emily's poems; but 
it does not go beyond the record of a first impression. 

Anne, finding that the great critical authority of the 
household smiled approval on Emily, now announced 

Planning Their Volume. 183 

that she also had composed poems. They were 
produced, and again the judgment proved favourable. 
"I thought," says Charlotte, "that these verses too 
had a sweet, sincere pathos of their own." If to 
" sweet, sincere pathos " we add unaffected and 
graceful feeling, and correct, easy, not unmelodious 
versification, we have almost a sufficient account of 
Anne Bronte's poems. 

The poetical powers of Charlotte seem to have been 
already known in the household, and the three sisters 
now formed the project of publishing a selection of 
their poems. It is a striking illustration of the state 
of severance and solitude, in relation both to their 
father and their brother, in which these girls lived, 
that neither Bran well nor Mr. Bronte was consulted 
as to the merit of the poems, or taken into the secret 
of publication. A special pathos is shed upon this 
state of affairs by the fact that the father had himself, 
as we saw, published poetry. 

But what reader with any tincture of sensibility and 
imagination can altogether fail to realise the situation 
of the sisters under these new circumstances? How 
keen would be the interest imparted to their whole 
life ! How " fluttering-fain," to use a fine imaginative 
epithet from their father's first volume, would be their 
hearts, as poem after poem was submitted to the 
critical conclave for selection or rejection ! How their 
eyes would glisten when they dared to look towards 
the future, and when hope suffused the horizon with 
auroral tints of fame, fortune, enlargement a vision 

184 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

on which they would not trust themselves to dwell 
often or long, but which was quite sure to present 
itself at moments to gifted and aspiring women. Their 
complete isolation would enhance their joy ; the moan- 
ing of the frozen wind of the moors around their little 
fire brightening the glow of it upon their faces. Then 
there was much to be excogitated, many letters to be 
written. Our good Haworth friend of the limited capital 
would find his boot-leather sorely taxed. They had an 
idea that the world looks unfavourably upon writing 
women, yet shrank from anything like a positive act 
of falsification, and therefore hunted up three names 
which no mortal could assign expressly to the one sex 
or the other Currer, Ellis, and Acton. The choice 
could not have been more felicitously mystifying, and 
the rather common surname Bell would naturally 
suggest a plebeian father, of high-flying temperament, 
who had given three out-of-the-way names to his 
sons. There were publishers to be corresponded with, 
questions of expense to be considered, the father's 
surprise, when the postman brought a letter addressed 
to Currer Bell, Esquire, to be obviated, and at last 
proofs to be corrected. It is in experiences like these 
that life becomes precious, that friendship and the 
affection of close relationship combine to pour the 
elixir of pure and tingling joy along the veins. In 
those weeks of cosing and conspiring over their 
grand ploy, England, we may be sure, did not hold 
many happier groups than that of the three Bronte 

The Poems Are Published. 185 

The volume was published in 1846 by Messrs. 
Aylott and Jones, London. Its interest depends 
mainly on the self-portraiture of the authors, of which, 
indeed, it may be said to consist. Anne's verses 
exhibit a devout, sincere, and tender nature, chastened 
by religious melancholy. Her mood, as Charlotte 
says, was that of " perpetual pensiveness." " The 
pillar of a cloud glided constantly before her eyes ; 
she ever waited at the foot of a secret Sinai, listening 
in her heart to the voice of a trumpet, sounding long 
and waxing louder." Patrick Bronte seerns to have 
been what would now be considered a rigid Calvinist, 
taking the pessimist rather than the equally logical 
optimist view of the Augustinian system ; and the idea 
of God as an inexorable Fate cast a deep shadow over 
the minds of the three sisters, but especially of Anne. 
It is consoling to learn that, "in her last moments, this 
tyranny of a too tender conscience was overcome ; this 
pomp of terrors broke up, and, passing away, left her 
dying hour unclouded." The invincible goodness of 
her nature, the importunate kindness of her heart, 
are pathetically shown by her rebellion against that 
harshest of all dogmas which affirms not only that a 
large proportion of mankind are consigned to eternal 
torment, but that it is the duty of humble souls to 
rejoice in this arrangement. A few stanzas from the 
poem, which she calls A Word to the "Elect" will 
explain her position. 

You may rejoice to think yourselves secure ; 

You may be grateful for the gift divine 
That grace unsought, which made your black hearts pure, 

And fits your earth-born souls in Heaven to shine. 

186 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

But is it sweet to look around, and view 

Thousands excluded from that happiness 
Which they deserved, at least, as much as you, 

Their faults not greater, nor their virtues less ? 

And, wherefore should your hearts more grateful prove, 
Because for ALL the Saviour did not die ? 

Is yours the God of justice and of love ? 
And are your bosoms warm with charity ? 

And when you, looking on your fellow-men, 

Behold them doomed to endless misery, 
How can you talk of joy and rapture then ? 

May God withhold such cruel joy from me ! 

And oh ! there lives within my heart 

A hope, long nursed by me ; 
(And should its cheering ray depart, 

How dark my soul would be !) 

That as in Adam all have died, 

In Christ shall all men live ; 
And ever round His throne abide, 

Eternal praise to give. 

The sadness which pervades Anne's poems renders 
them, however, on the whole, oppressive and un- 
healthy. Only once do I observe that she breaks into 
a strain of jubilation, a high wind in a wood dissipating 
for a moment the gloom of her spirit. 

My soul is awakened, my spirit is soaring, 

And carried aloft on the wings of the breeze ; 
For above and around me the wild wind is roaring, 

Arousing to rapture the earth and the seas. 
The long withered grass in the sunshine is glancing, 

The bare trees are tossing their branches on high ; 
The dead leaves beneath them are merrily dancing, 

The white clouds are scudding across the blue sky. 

Charlotte's own poems, though much less restricted 
in idea than those of her youngest sister, are not of 

Charlotte's Verses. 187 

much value. Both sisters are accomplished versifiers 
and have command of clear and vivid words, but both 
fail in imagination, in variety of colour, and in passion. 
This, from Pilate's Wife's Dream, by Charlotte, is a 
tolerable stanza, but the piece, as a whole, is disap- 

The world advances ; Greek or Eoman rite 
Suffices not the inquiring mind to stay ; 

The searching soul demands a purer light 
To guide it on its upward, onward way : 

Ashamed of sculptured gods, Eeligion turns 

To where the unseen Jehovah's altar burns. 

The lines entitled Preference are eloquent rather 
than poetical ; they read like an average passage from 
Jane Eyre or Shirley finely versified ; but they have 
this potent interest, that they present us with a 
brilliant sketch, from her own hand, of the kind of 
man whom Charlotte Bronte, in her years of brightest 
womanhood, would have loved. She first dismisses 
the man whom she could not love, telling him not to 
flatter himself that he has made the least impression. 

Why that smile ? Thou now art deeming 

This my coldness all untrue, 
But a mask of frozen seeming, 

Hiding secret fires from view. 
Touch my hand, thou self-deceiver ; 

Nay be calm, for I am so : 
Does it burn ? Does my lip quiver ? 

Has mine eye a troubled glow ? 

She grants no refuge to his amour propre in the 
notion that perhaps, if she will not have him, she will 
have no one. 

188 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

Can I love ? Oh, deeply truly 

Warmly fondly but not thee ; 
And my love is answered duly, 

With an equal energy. 
Would'st thou see thy rival ? Hasten 

Draw that curtain soft aside, 
Look where yon thick branches chasten 

Noon, with shades of eventide. 
In that glade, where foliage blending 

Forms a green arch overhead, 
Sits thy rival, thoughtful bending 

O'er a stand with papers spread 
Motionless, his fingers plying 

That untired, unresting pen ; 
Time and tide unnoticed flying, 

There he sits the first of men ! 
Man of conscience man of reason ; 

Stern, perchance, but ever just ; 
Foe to falsehood, wrong, and treason, 

Honour's shield and virtue's trust. 
Worker, thinker, firm defender 

Of Heaven's truth man's liberty; 
Soul of iron proof to slander, 

Eock where founders tyranny. 
Fame he seeks not but full surely 

She will seek him in his horde ; 
This I know, and wait securely 

For the atoning hour to come 
To that man my faith is given. 

There is better poetry than this in Charlotte Bronte's 
prose ; but it would be hard to refuse one whose 
strongest feelings take so naturally and flowingly the 
garment of verse the name of poet. 

I have never changed the opinion, formed and ex- 
pressed by me many years ago, that the poems of 
Emily Bronte excel those of her sisters. They are 
superior in occasional splendour and concentrated 

Emily's Poems. 189 

force of expression ; in serene intensity ; in pene- 
tration and power of thought. Take as a sample of 
her gift of expression the following poem, I omit a 
few of the stanzas. 


Ah ! why, because the dazzling sun 

Restored our earth to joy, 
Have you departed, every one, 

And left a desert sky ? 
All through the night, your glorious eyes 

Were gazing down in mine, 
And, with a full heart's thankful sighs, 

I blessed that watch divine. 
I was at peace, and drank your beams 

As they were life to me ; 
And revelled in my changeful dreams 

Like petrel on the sea. 
Why did the morning dawn to break 

So great, so pure a spell ; 
And scorch with fire the tranquil cheek, 

Where your cool radiance fell ? 
Blood-red, he rose, and, arrow-straight, 

His fierce beams struck my brow ; 
The soul of nature sprang, elate, 

But mine sank sad and low ! 
My lids closed down, yet through their veil 

I saw him, blazing still. 
And steep in gold the misty dale, 

And flash upon the hill. 
Oh, stars, and dreams, and gentle night ! 

Oh, night and stars return ! 
And hide me from the hostile light, 

That does not warm, but burn ; 
That drains the blood of suffering men ; 

Drinks tears, instead of dew ; 
Let me sleep through his blinding reign, 

And only wake with you ! 

190 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

The second of these verses expresses a thought 
which certainly is not new, but no thought could be 
more beautiful or more imaginative ; the fifth is superb 
in its brevity and concentration, in its burst of colour, 
its blaze of light : we feel ourselves flooded with the 
crimson of dawn. Charlotte has once or twice written 
as finely in prose ; never in verse. 

Lovely also, with a grave, high, solemn loveliness, 
especially towards its close, is the poem entitled 
A Death Scene. The lady hangs over her dying lover 
while the sun is high and the west winds are blowing, 
and entreats him not to yield to death. But a glance 
that rebuked her for yielding weakly to her woe, " one 
mute look of suffering," moved her to repent her 
prayer. She grew calm. No sign of further grieving 
stirred her soul. The last hour came. 

Paled, at length, the sweet sun setting; 

Sunk to peace the twilight breeze : 
Summer dews fell softly, wetting 

Glen, and glade, and silent trees. 

Then his eyes began to weary, 

Weighed beneath a mortal sleep ; 
And their orbs grew strangely dreary, 

Clouded, even as they would weep. 

But they wept not, but they changed not, 
Never moved, and never closed ; 

Troubled still, and still they ranged not- 
Wandered not, nor yet reposed. 

So I knew that he was dying 
Stooped, and raised his languid head ; 

Felt no breath, and heard no sighing, 
So I knew that he was dead. 

Belief and Unbelief. 191 

But the most important of Emily Bronte's poems 
the most original in thought, the most powerful in 
imagination, the most intensely sincere and im- 
passioned in feeling is one too vaguely called The 
Philosopher. It consists of an interchange of con- 
fidences "between two sages, or two personified moods 
of the same sage, on the question of questions, God 
or no God ? The one sage believes ; the other, to 
say the least, hesitates. The second sage has the last 
word, and this appears to show that the position he 
takes up is adopted by the author. Let us hear first 
the believing sage. 

" I saw a Spirit, standing, man, 

Where them dost stand an hour ago, 
And round his feet three rivers ran, 

Of equal depth and equal flow 
A golden stream and one of blood 

And one of sapphire seemed to be ; 
But when they joined their triple flood 

It tumbled in an inky sea. 
The Spirit sent his dazzling gaze 

Down through that ocean's gloomy night ; 
Then, kindling all, with sudden blaze, 

The glad deep sparkled wide and bright 
White as the sun, far, far more fair 
Than its divided sources were ! " 

Such is the statement of his experience, such the 
profession of his faith, by the believer in God. 
Observe the imaginative grandeur, combined with 
intellectual subtlety, of the similitude made use of. 
Every painter knows that the three primitive colours, 
red, yellow, blue here represented by blood, gold, and 

192 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

sapphire yield, when mingled, an " inky," or, at 
least, brown-black tint. Yet out of those same colours, 
linked in celestial harmony, arises the pure white 
light. The seer, the proclaimer of faith in God, 
avers that, while he looked upon the colours mixing in 
the blackness of chaos the blackness of matter the 
blackness of an universal inky ocean unvisited by 
light he saw a Spirit send from His eye an irradia- 
ting beam, which turned blackness into beauty and 
night into day, kindling the universe with sudden 
blaze of order, life, and joy. That Spirit was God. 

To have devised and worked out a conception like 
this would have satisfied almost any woman-poet that 
ever lived ; but it is only the prelude to what Emily 
Bronte has to say. She has uttered the challenge : 
now for the reply. It is the philosophical sceptic, the 
representative of earnest doubt, that speaks. 

" And even for that Spirit, seer, 

I've watched and sought my lifetime long ; 
Sought Hun in heaven, hell, earth, and air, 

An endless search, and always wrong. 
Had I but seen His glorious eye 

Once light the clouds that wilder me, 
I ne'er had raised this coward cry 

To cease to think and cease to be ; 
I ne'er had called oblivion blest, 

Nor, stretching eager hands to death, 
Implored to change for senseless rest 

This sentient soul, this living breath. 
Oh, let me die ! that power and will 

Their cruel strife may close ; 
And conquered good, and conquering ill, 

Be lost in one repose ! " 

The Last Word of Doubt. 193 

To this Emily Bronte gives no answer. By all 
rules of interpretation, the speaker must be held to 
stand for the poet. It seems, therefore, to be Emily 
Bronte who, deliberately and intensely, but without the 
remotest suggestion of irreverence, affirms that she 
has looked for the Spirit announced by the seer who 
spoke first, and has not seen Him. One glimpse, she 
says, would have been enough, but that one glimpse 
she did not obtain ; and in colossal sincerity, though 
with unspeakable distress, she turns to the universe, 
which is for her a grave, and accepts the eternal death 
that is her portion. Whether it is in the mere 
dramatic sympathy of an artist that Emily Bronte 
puts words into the mouth of the philosopher; or 
whether the words are her own, and reveal a secret 
that might throw some light on her stern, reserved, 
ungenial existence, and on the mood of mind in which 
Wuthering Heights was composed ; I shall not under- 
take to decide. 

I confess, however, that I look upon the second of 
these hypotheses as in a high degree probable. THe 
verses come, if ever verses came, from the heart, 
and I cannot help thinking that the fire within them 
searched with its burnings the soul of Emily Bronte. 
Charlotte, I fancy, never fathomed the depths of her 
sister's mind. At all events, the girl who wrote these 
stanzas had uttered the last and deepest word that has 
been spoken, or can rationally be spoken, by modern 
doubt. "Show us" this is the challenge of the 
Tyndalls, the John Morleys "any glittering upon 


194 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

the clouds of nature that proceeds from a Divine 
Eye, any force, influence, power, in or upon this 
all- comprehending nature, which is not part and 
parcel of nature itself, of nature everlastingly self- 
produced and self-swallowed, which is in any sense 
above or beyond, or dynamically distinguishable from 
nature, and with which man can enter into communi- 
cation ; and we will believe." Thrice blessed are they 
who can solemnly, and in all the calmness of intelligent 
faith, believe that God has given them such a glance 
of His eye that they cannot but believe in His 
existence ; but it may be doubted whether the reason 
of their faith admits of being presented in a logically 
unassailable form. On the other hand, those who 
refuse to believe may be expected to admit that their 
negation is purely personal, that they are not justified 
in converting it into a positive and generalised state- 
ment, and that they ought to weigh fairly, in the 
opposite scale, the deliberate assertion of tens of 
thousands of the best and wisest representatives of 
the species, that God has spoken to them. To the 
individual testimony, also, must in fairness be added 
the testimony of the race, a testimony in which, 
Hume being judge, all ages and tribes are unanimous, 
a testimony so decisively signalising man as the wor- 
shipping animal, the creature that, on nature's highest 
pinnacle, opens his eye on God, that Auguste Comte 
can find no basis of possible organisation for human 
society except a religious basis. Why, if evolution 
be true, should the supreme and ultimate fact of 

Unwilling Doubt. 195 

evolution be denied? Why, when man, the Colum- 
bus of the universe, has caught sight of the Divine 
and Eternal continents of spiritual existence, should 
they be perversely declared to be but sun-gilt mist ? 

This, however, we may hold with all clearness and 
decision, that when one does, as Emily Bronte did, 
and as the poet Cowper still more conspicuously did, 
thirst after God with genuine and impassioned long- 
ing, the hiding of His countenance is but apparent 
a physical clouding of the brain and is not only 
not identical with, but essentially opposite to, that 
sensual and self-satisfied atheism, that brutish in- 
difference to ideal aims and disinterested virtues, 
that rancorous mutiny against law and order, which 
is moral death. 




THE poems of the Bronte sisters, published anony- 
mously at their own expense, shared the fate 
which has generally attended books in which the pub- 
lishers have had no interest. Many anonymous books 
have succeeded, many books by young and unprac- 
tised writers have succeeded, but books published 
by authors at their own expense are the pariahs of 
literature. These brave girls, however, were not cast 
down, "Ill-success," says Charlotte, "failed to crush 
us : the mere effort to succeed had given a wonderful 
zest to existence ; it must be pursued." They resolved 
that their next venture should be in prose. Charlotte 
produced The Professor, Anne Agnes Grey, the re- 
served, deep-thoughted, brooding Emily WutJiering 
Heights. Of the first I shall have something to say 
in connection with Charlotte's last novel, Villette. 
The second I attempted to read, many years ago, but 
failed. Wuthering Heights is one of the most remark- 
able of all the Bronte books, and derives an interest 
almost poignantly keen from its relation to the 

Mr. Grundy on Wuthering Heights. 197 

character of Emily Bronte. It must be carefully 

Before taking up the book I am forced, not without 
considerable reluctance, to put out of the way a 
statement respecting it made by Mr. F. H. Grundy, 
whose unparalleled "vindication" of poor Branwell 
Bronte I formerly referred to. Mr. Grundy observes 
"that the question of the authorship of Wuthering 
Heights has long vexed the critics." This is new to 
me. When Wuthering Heights appeared, many people 
thought that it was by the author of Jane Eyre, 
which had been published a few months earlier. On 
this misconception Charlotte wrote as follows : 
" Unjust and grievous error ! We laughed at it at 
first, but I deeply lament it now." Such a report 
would naturally pain the true author, and Char- 
lotte did justice to her sister by saying, with brief 
precision, " Ellis Bell produced Wuthering Heights." 
Since these words were printed, no critic has been 
"vexed" by doubt or question as to the authorship 
of the novel. But Mr. Grundy makes this startling 
averment : " Patrick Bronte declared to me, and what 
his sister said bore out the assertion, that he wrote a 
great portion of Wuthering Heights himself. Indeed, 
it is impossible for me to read that story without 
meeting with many passages which I feel certain must 
have come from his pen. The weird fancies of dis- 
eased genius with which he used to entertain me in 
our long talks at Luddendenfoot, reappear in the 
pages of the novel, and I am inclined to believe that 

198 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

the very plot was his invention rather than his 

Mr. Grundy's book was published in 1879. The 
statements which he imputes to Branwell Bronte can- 
not have been made less than thirty-one years before 
that date. Mr. Grundy has lived a roving life, traversing 
first England and then Australia in the exercise of his 
profession as an engineer, and it is no discredit to him 
that his memory should have become confused as to 
the particulars of conversations that took place, in or 
before 1848, between him and young Bronte. It would 
be painful to think that the latter laid claim to the 
authorship of Wuthering Heights, for if he did, he 
must have spoken falsely. Not a line of his composi- 
tion, whether in prose or in verse, exhibits a glimpse of 
such power as appears everywhere in the novel. The 
negative proof against him is singularly complete and 
convincing. Neither in his own letters, nor in Mrs. 
Gaskell's biography, nor in Charlotte's account of the 
origin of Wuthering Heights, is there a trace of evi- 
dence that he was ever associated with his sisters in 
their literary enterprises. We hear of him as having 
been an usher in a school, a private tutor, a portrait- 
painter, trying to establish himself at Bradford, all 
before he was twenty-two. At twenty-two he is at 
Luddendenfoot, astonishing Mr. Grundy by his conver- 
sation, neglecting his duties, carousing with worthless 
companions, and conducting himself, on the whole, dis- 
gracefully. It is hardly conceivable that the drunken 
station-master should have told Mr. Grundy that he 

Authorship of Wuthering Heights. 199 

had written part of the novel which, six or seven years 
later, Emily Bronte was to publish as her own. When 
Bronte left Luddendenfoot, Mr. Grundy lost sight of 
him for three years ; in Bronte's letters which followed 
the resumption of their intercourse, and from which 
Mr. Grundy prints several extracts, there is not a hint 
that he is author of Wuthering Heights, or that he has 
the slightest knowledge of the literary activity of his 
sisters. In the interval he had been dismissed in pro- 
found disgrace from his second tutorship; and had re- 
turned, broken-hearted, to Haworth. At the time when 
Charlotte, Emily, and Anne were preparing first their 
poems and then their prose tales for the press, he was 
sinking into the grave, ruined in body and soul, inca- 
pable of mental work of any kind, and no more fit to 
write Wuthering Heights than Homer's Iliad. There 
was thus really no period in his history, so far as I can 
trace it, at which he could have written any part of 
Wuthering Heights. That book is perfectly homo- 
geneous in thought, feeling, and style, and pointedly 
evinces itself the work of one mind and one pen. It 
was produced by Emily Bronte, and by her alone. By 
a strange and sad caprice of fate, her work was claimed 
for her sister during her life-time, and for her brother 
after her death. 

Charlotte's criticism of her sister's novel is interest- 
ing and able, but somewhat perplexing. She first 
alleges that the characters delineated in Wuthering 
Heights are true to nature, and then surprises us by the 
announcement that her sister knew nothing personally 

200 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

about the originals that suggested them. Setting out 
with the remark that to those who are unfamiliar with 
" the inhabitants, the customs, the natural character- 
istics of the outlying hills and hamlets in the West 
Eiding of Yorkshire," the book " must appear a rude 
and strange production," Charlotte proceeds : " Men 
and women, who, perhaps naturally very calm, and with 
feelings moderate in degree, and little marked in kind, 
have been trained from their cradle to observe the 
utmost evenness of manner and guardedness of lan- 
guage, will hardly know what to make of the rough, 
strong utterance, the harshly-manifested passions, the 
unbridled aversions and headlong partialities, of unlet- 
tered moorland hinds and rugged moorland squires, 
who have grown up* untaught and unchecked, except 
by mentors as harsh as themselves." This clearly im- 
plies that the language, customs, passions, in one 
word, the character, of the moorland hinds and squires, 
that figure in Wuthering Heights, are looked upon by 
the writer as correctly depicted. But after stating, in 
the immediate sequel, that the scenery of Wuthering 
Heights is true to the West Eiding that the book is 
" moorish, and wild, and knotty as a root of heath," 
that the hills and moors were, to her sister, " what she 
lived in and by, as much as the wild birds, their ten- 
ants, or as the heather, their produce," she adds that 
Emily, after all, knew nothing, except at second-hand, 
about the moorland hinds and squires. " I am bound 
to avow" these are Charlotte's words " that she had 
scarcely more practical knowledge of the peasantry 

Emily's Knowledge of Yorkshire. 201 

______ * 

amongst whom she lived, than a nun has of the country 
people who sometimes pass her convent gates." Emily, 
it seems, was benevolent but not "gregarious," by 
which word Charlotte means sociable. She had heard 
the histories of the moorland folk, but did not know 
them personally. " She could hear of them with 
interest, and talk of them with detail, minute, graphic, 
and accurate ; but with them, she rarely exchanged a 
word. Hence it ensued that what her mind had 
gathered of the real concerning them was too exclu- 
sively confined to those tragic and terrible traits of 
which, in listening to the secret annals of every rude 
vicinage, the memory is sometimes compelled to re- 
ceive the impress. Her imagination, which was a 
spirit more sombre than sunny, more powerful than 
sportive, found in such traits material whence it 
wrought creations like Heathcliff, like Earnshaw, like 

I am unable to believe that Emily Bronte had 
derived only from hearsay the knowledge of human 
character, and in particular of the language and 
manners of the West Eiding, which is exhibited in 
Wuthering Heights. She shows herself almost as 
familiar with the dialect of the West Eiding as Scott 
does with the broad Scotch of Midlothian farm- 
houses. Secluded as had been her life, I cannot 
doubt that she had seen and talked with peasants 
who might have sat for Joseph, with woman- 
servants who might have been the original of Zillah, 
and with youthful hinds who might have suggested 


202 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

Hareton Earnshaw. Nor is it credible that the dis- 
like of strangers, the vehemence of language even to 
cursing, the general shaggy rudeness and roughness 
and ungeniality, that characterised the household of 
Wuthering Heights, were not suggested by personal 
observation among the moors of Yorkshire. The 
truth seems to be that Charlotte gave one aspect of 
the Yorkshire character, and Emily another. Char- 
lotte showed the brilliant, bright, and brave side of 
Yorkshire human nature in her Shirley Keeldars and 
her Bobert Moores ; Emily, in her Josephs and her 
Heathcliffs, brought out its capacities for badness, its 
dark Norse tendency to brooding spite and to implaca- 
bility of vengeful hate, its proneness to case its natural 
hardness in spiritual pride and to deepen its natural 
gloom by superstition. Since the domestic annals of 
England, whether in Yorkshire or elsewhere, have 
been made public in the reports of the divorce and 
police courts, it has been no secret that such things 
happen as are detailed in the history of the neighbour 
families of Earnshaw and Linton. I, of course, do 
not presume to set aside Charlotte Bronte's statement 
as to the slightness of Emily's intercourse with the 
people of Yorkshire ; but I think that she did not 
sufficiently take account of the opportunities for obser- 
vation inevitably occurring to one brought up from 
infancy in a particular locality, and of the value, even 
of rare occasions of observation, to so sure an eye, 
and so tenacious a memory, as Emily's. 

The stamp of Emily's genius, branded deep on 

The Meaning of Wutliering Heights. 203 

Wuthering Heights, is seen chiefly in what I shall 
call the motivation of the work. The secret of her 
life, if we may read that secret in the terrible poem 
which I attempted to analyse, is to be discerned 
between the lines of the novel. The purport of the 
poem is that Emily Bronte had searched the universe 
for God, and that God had never, by so much as one 
glimpse of His eye, revealed Himself to her. The 
burden of Wuthering Heights is the potency of evil 
its potency to pervert good. Old Mr. Earnshaw does 
a deed of kindness relieves the helpless, shelters the 
homeless and thus brings a fiend in human shape 
into his house. Emily Bronte, with a strange reserve 
of power in so young an artist, generally covers up her 
secret ; but she is vividly conscious of her own mean- 
ing, and sometimes lets us have more than a hint of 
it. " It's a cuckoo's, sir," answers Nelly Dean, when 
Lockwood asks her what is HeathclifFs history. Now 
the ways of the cuckoo are deeply suggestive. The 
green-finch builds her nest in the hedge, and lays her 
eggs ; the cuckoo comes and inserts her egg among the 
rest ; and if you go and look six weeks afterwards, 
you find that the young cuckoo has utterly dispos- 
sessed the young finches, by way of thanks to their 
mother for giving it a warm place, while still un- 
fledged, among her eggs. I have seen the young 
cuckoo a huge, hawk-like thing, much larger than 
the whole nest of the green-finch, out of which and 
over which it had grown until it no longer lay in it 
but upon it and could well believe, from its greedy, 

204 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

voracious look, that it was capable, according to the 
old couplet quoted in King Lear, of biting off the head 
of its good little foster-mother. This is one of those 
mysterious facts which are not usually mentioned by 
preachers when expatiating on the bounty and benefi- 
cence of nature, but which, at a time when nature- 
worship is fashionable, ought not to be overlooked. 
Heathcliff, the little castaway Lascar, or gipsy, whom 
Mr. Earnshaw picked out of the gutter in Liverpool 
and brought home, was the human cuckoo of Wuther- 
ing Heights. In like manner, the hospitable deed of 
Mr. and Mrs. Linton, of Thrushcross Grange, in 
sheltering Catherine Earnshaw, leading, as it did, 
to an intimacy between the families of the Heights 
and of the Grange, brought sorrow and death to 
their offspring. 

Strange and appalling thesis to be expounded by an 
English girl ! In the Iliad it is of tyrannic rapacity 
on the one hand, and proud resentment and moody 
wrath on the other, that the curse is born whence 
spring unnumbered woes. In the great Greek 
tragedies it is sin always that is the fountain-head 
of sorrow. The Supreme is audaciously defied or 
outwitted before Prometheus is nailed on his rock- 
Agamemnon slays Iphigeneia ; Clytaemnestra kills the 
husband who had slain her daughter and his own ; 
Orestes kills the mother who had killed his father. 
Even when the sin is committed in entire uncon- 
sciousness, as when CEdipus kills Laius, the deed 
itself, viewed objectively, is evil. In the tremendous 

Withering Heights. 205 

tragedy of Lear, in which the genius of Shakespeare 
reveals itself in all its characteristic moral intensity, 
it is from folly and lawless passion the folly of 
prodigal and impulsive generosity in the old King 
and the sin of lawless passion in Gloucester that the 
subsequent blighting of the earth and blackening of 
the heavens proceed. But in Wuthering Heights the 
root of pain and misery is goodness, and the world in 
which we move seems God-forsaken. And yet this 
can, I think, be proved the tale is told without 
violation of natural possibility. That is to say, we 
are always made aware of the means by which good 
is neutralised or perverted and the triumph of evil 
prepared. Herein is displayed the consummate skill 
of the author ; while at the same time the main 
doctrine of the book, that there is no overruling 
Divine force to be counted on to " make for " right- 
eousness, or for those who work righteousness, is 
fearfully illustrated. 

It is not indeed wholly without glimpses of joy and 
brightness. Were that so, the gloom would be in- 
sufferable. "A good heart will help you to a bonny 
face, my lad," says one of the characters. There is 
much tenderness, as well as sense of the wild joy of 
the moors, in the loving inspection and enumeration of 
the feathers of moorland birds drawn from her pillow 
by Cathy Linton on her death-bed. . Sometimes the 
darkness is dispersed, like mist by a sudden burst of 
sunlight, and the joy breaks out in a loud, ringing, 
lark-like song of gladness, as in that admirable passage 

206 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

where the younger Cathy gives an account of the 
dispute which she and her boy-lover had as to the best 
way of imagining happiness and heaven. " One 
time," she says, " we were near quarrelling. He said, 
the pleasantest manner of spending a hot July day was 
lying from morning till evening on the bank of heath 
in the middle of the moors, with the bees humming 
dreamily about among the bloom, and the larks 
singing high up overhead, and the blue sky and bright 
sun shining steadily and cloudlessly. That was his 
perfect idea of heaven's happiness. Mine was, rocking 
in a rustling green tree, with a west wind blowing, 
and bright white clouds flitting rapidly above ; and not 
only larks, but throstles, and blackbirds, and linnets, 
and cuckoos, pouring out music on every side, and the 
moors seen at a distance, broken into cool, dusky dells ; 
but close by, great swells of long grass undulating in 
waves to the breeze ; and woods, and sounding water, 
and the whole world awake and wild with joy. He 
wanted all to lie in an ecstasy of peace ; I wanted all 
to sparkle and dance in a glorious jubilee." It is not, 
however, too much to say that there is only enough of 
brightness in Wuthering Heights to bring out the 
gloom of the book in its deepest murky glow. 



AT the beginning of the tale we have a description 
of its principal locality : " Wuthering Heights is 
the name of Mr. HeathclifFs dwelling, ' wuthering 1 being 
a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the 
atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in 
stormy weather. Pure, bracing ventilation they must 
have up there at all times ; indeed, one may guess the 
power of the north wind blowing over the edge, by the 
excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the 
house ; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching 
their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun." 
The book throughout is written in this style ; simple, 
terse, idiomatic, perfectly clear, singularly picturesque ; 
without the French polish that is conspicuous in 
Charlotte's, but with more of homety pith and forceful 
ease. That of the gaunt thorns asking alms of the 
sun is a wonderful piece of imaginative work, to come 
so easily from the hand of a girl-artist. 

Mr. Earnshaw, Squire of Wuthering Heights, had 
been absent for three days, and arrived about eleven 

208 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

o'clock at night. The children, bent on seeing their 
presents, had prevailed with their mother to let them 
sit up for him. He flung himself into a chair, saying 
he was nearly dead. Opening his great coat, " See 
here, wife!" he said, "I was never so beaten with 
anything in my life ; but you must e'en take it as a 
gift of God ; though it's as dark almost as if it came 
from the devil." What they saw was "a dirty, ragged, 
black-haired child," talking gibberish. Mr. Earnshaw 
had seen it "starving" in the streets of Liverpool. 
So it was taken into the family and called Heathcliff. 
It seemed to be " a sullen, patient child ; hardened, 
perhaps, to ill-treatment." Mr. Earnshaw defended 
the boy against his son Hindley, who disliked him, 
and ill-feeling thus crept in between son and father. 
Heathcliff was quiet and uncomplaining, but insen- 
sible to kindness, and profoundly selfish. In addition 
to his son, Mr. Earnshaw had a daughter Catherine. 
Wild as a moorland bird, she had a strange witching 
beauty of her own, and none but she had power over 
the affections of Heathcliff. They grew up side by 
side, rambled together on the moors, and learned to 
love each other with what was less an ordinary 
passion than an absolute absorption of the life and 
being of the one into those of the other. I shall quote 
the account of one of their truant excursions which 
had important effects. They had been banished from 
the sitting-room as the evening came on, had escaped 
to the moors, and took it into their heads to ramble 
to Thrushcross Grange, several miles away, to see 

Boy and Girl. 209 

what the Linton children were doing. The boy 
Heathcliff is the speaker, Nelly Dean the listener. 

" We ran from the top of the Heights to the park without stopping 
Catherine completely beaten in the race, because 'she was bare- 
foot. You'll have to seek for her shoes in the bog to-morrow. We 
crept through a broken hedge, groped our way up the path, and 
planted ourselves on a flower-plot under the drawing-room 
window. The light came from thence ; they had not put 
up the shutters, and the curtains were only half closed. Both 
of us were able to look in by standing on the basement, and 
clinging to the ledge, and we saw ah ! it was beautiful a splendid 
place, carpeted with crimson, and crimson- covered chairs and 
tables, and a pure white ceiling bordered by gold, a shower of 
glass-drops hanging in silver chains from the centre, and shim- 
mering with little soft tapers. Old Mr. and Mrs. Linton were not 
there ; Edgar and his sister had it entirely to themselves. 
Shouldn't they have been happy? We should have thought 
ourselves in heaven ! And now, guess what your good children 
were doing? Isabella I believe she is eleven a year younger 
than Cathy lay screaming at the further end of the room, 
shrieking as if witches were running red-hot needles into her. 
Edgar stood on the hearth, weeping silently, and in the middle of 
the table sat a little dog, shaking its paw and yelping ; which, from 
then* mutual accusations, we understood they had nearly pulled in 
two between them. The idiots ! That was their pleasure ! to 
quarrel who should hold a heap of warm hair, and each begin to 
cry because both, after struggling to get it, refused to take it. We 
laughed outright at the petted things ; we did despise them ! 
When would you catch me wishing to have what Catherine 
wanted ? or find us by ourselves, seeking entertainment in yelling, 
and sobbing, and rolling on the ground, divided by the whole 
room ? I'd not exchange, for a thousand lives, my condition here 
for Edgar Linton's at Thrushcross Grange not if I might have the 
privilege of flinging Joseph off the highest gable, and painting the 
house-front with Hindley's blood ! " 

" Hush,' hush ! " I interrupted. " Still you have not told me, 
Heathcliff, how Catherine is left behind?" "I told you we 
laughed," he answered. "The Lintons heard us, and with one 
accord they shot like arrows to the door ; there was silence, and 


210 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

then a cry, ' Oh, mamma, mamma ! Oh, papa ! Oh, mamma, 
come here. Oh, papa, oh ! " They really did howl out something 
in that way. We made frightful noises to terrify them still more, 
and then we dropped off the ledge, because somebody was drawing 
the bars, and we felt we had better flee. I had Cathy by the hand, 
and was urging her on, when all at once she fell down. ' Kun, 
Heathcliff, run ! ' she whispered. ' They have let the bull-dog 
loose, and he holds me ! ' The devil had seized her ankle, Nelly : 
I heard his abominable snorting. She did not yell out no, she 
would have scorned to do it, if she had been spitted on the horns 
of a mad cow. I did, though, I vociferated curses enough to 
annihilate any fiend in Christendom ; and I got a stone and thrust 
it between its jaws, and tried with all my might to cram it down 
his throat. A beast of a servant came up with a lantern, at last, 
shouting, * Keep fast, Skulker, keep fast.' He changed his tone, 
however, when he saw Skulker's game. The dog was throttled off; 
his huge, purple tongue hanging half a foot out of his mouth, and 
the pendent lips streaming with bloody slaver. The man took 
Cathy up ; she was sick ; not from fear, I am certain, but from 
pain. He carried her in ; I followed, grumbling execrations and 
vengeance. 'What prey, Robert?' hallooed Linton, from the 
entrance. 'Skulker has caught a little girl, sir,' he replied ; 'and 
there's a lad here,' he added, making a clutch at me, ' who looks 
an out-and-outer ! Very like the robbers were for putting them 
through the window to open the doors to the gang after all were 
asleep, that they might murder us at their ease. Hold your 
tongue, you foul-mouthed thief, you ! You shall go to the gallows 
for this. Mr. Linton, sir, don't lay by your gun.' ' No, no, Robert,' 
said the old fool. ' The rascals knew that yesterday was my rent- 
day.' He pulled me under the chandelier, and Mrs. Linton placed 
her spectacles on her nose, and raised her hands in horror. The 
cowardly children crept nearer, also, Isabel lisping 'Frightful 
thing ! Put him in the cellar, papa.' " 

The implacable hatred with which Heathcliff hence- 
forward regarded Isabella Linton and her brother 
Edgar may be partly accounted for by the impressions 
received by him on this occasion. Such a proposal as 
" Put him in the cellar, papa," made by a little girl, 

Cathy and the Lintons. 211 

would strike the boy-prisoner as venomously cruel. It 
is important to note this point, for in no respect is 
Heathcliff's subsequent conduct quite so diabolical as 
in his treatment of Isabella and her child. No com- 
mittal to the cellar, however, took place. Cathy was 
presently recognised and received into favour, while 
Heathcliff was ordered out of the house, to pick his 
way back to Wuthering Heights over the moors, " I 
refused," he says, "to go without Cathy; he (the man- 
servant) dragged me into the garden, pushed the lantern 
into my hand, assured me that Mr. Earnshaw should 
be informed of my behaviour, and, bidding me march 
directly, secured the door again. The curtains were 
still looped up at one corner, and I resumed my 
station as spy ; because, if Catherine had wished to 
return, I intended shattering their great glass panes 
to a million of fragments, unless they let her out. 
She sat on the sofa quietly. The woman-servant 
brought a basin of warm water, and washed her feet ; 
and Mr. Linton mixed a tumbler of negus, and 
Isabella emptied a plateful of cakes into her lap, and 
Edgar stood gaping at a distance. Afterwards they 
dried and combed her beautiful hair, and gave her a 
pair of enormous slippers and wheeled her to the fire ; 
and I left her as merry as she could be, dividing her 
food between the little dog and Skulker, whose nose 
she pinched as he ate ; and kindling a spark of spirit 
in the vacant blue eyes of the Lintons a dim reflec- 
tion from her own enchanting face. I saw they were 
full of stupid admiration; she is so immeasurably 


212 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

superior to them to everybody on earth is she not, 

At this time there was evidently much capability of 
good in Heathcliff. He was a brave boy, and intensely 
devoted to at least one human being in addition to 
himself. But Hindley had lately succeeded to his 
father in possession of Wuthering Heights, and had 
begun to treat Heathcliff with detestable injustice. 
His cruelty " was enough to make a fiend of a saint." 
Heathcliff had been no saint, but the fiendish elements 
in his nature grew apace under Hindley's nurturing. 
Catherine, too, had apparently ceased to love the 
alien, and resolved to bestow herself on Edgar Linton. 
Heathcliff, in desperation, ran away from Wuthering 
Heights, and was not heard of for several years. One 
day he returned, full-grown, and with money in his 
pockets ; but where he had been, or how he had got 
it, he never told. 

I shall now make him stand aside until I have said 
a word or two on old Joseph, a minor character, but 
one of the most original in the group, and on some 
others among the dramatis personce. 

" There is a dry saturnine humour," says Charlotte 
Bronte, "in the delineation of old Joseph." The 
humour is both saturnine and dry, as compared, for 
example, with that of Scott in the far more genial 
and amusing portraiture of the kindred character, 
Andrew Fairservice ; but it is of a rarer quality 
than Charlotte seems to perceive. There are touches 
in the delineation of Joseph which recall George Eliot 

Old Joseph. 213 

in her raciest mood. He can throw a reflection or a 
sneer into a metaphoric form so apt, compact, and 
graphic, that we are reminded of Mrs. Poyser and, 
still more, of Elspeth Bede. His way of describing one 
man yielding to temptation administered by another is 
to say that the first " gallops down t' broad road," 
while the second " flees afore to oppen t' pikes." He 
characterises a dainty, proud woman in the following 
remark : " We wer a'most too mucky to sow t' corn 
for makking her breead." Have we anything better 
than that from Mrs. Poyser or Elspeth Bede ? Joseph 
is not consciously a bad man. Nay, he is convinced 
of his superlative goodness, and belongs to that class, 
with whom we found Anne Bronte expostulating, who 
have no manner of difficulty, no weak human experi- 
ence of imaginative or sympathetic pain, in supposing 
that an enormous proportion of their race have been 
marked off for everlasting destruction, while they are 
themselves the favourites of heaven. He was "the 
wearisomest, self-righteous Pharisee that ever ran- 
sacked a Bible to rake the promises to himself and 
fling the curses to his neighbours." In the height 
of a thunderstorm he " swung on to his knees, 
beseeching the Lord to remember the patriarchs 
Noah and Lot, and, as in former times, spare the 
righteous, though He smote the ungodly." " Thank 
Hivin for all ! " said Joseph. " All warks togither for 
gooid to them as is chozzen, and piked out fro' th' 
rubbidge ! " Joseph was not without a certain dog- 
like fidelity to the Earnshaw family, but it never 

214 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

interfered with the rooted selfishness of his nature. 
If we take the bank-notes in the following sentence to 
symbolise the intense worldliness overlying all that 
was good in his sentiments and theology, the words 
will expressively denote the kind of man he was. 
"He solemnly spread his large Bible on the table, 
and overlaid it with dirty bank-notes from his pocket- 

Such characters as Joseph are, I think, uncommon. 
I have met with but one or two in the course of my 
life, and of none even of these am I perfectly sure that 
Joseph can be taken as the accurate representative. 
I do not doubt, however, that Emily Bronte had some 
actual Yorkshire peasant in view, and without ques- 
tion the peculiar faults and perversities of Joseph are 
in minor degree and development not too rare to be 
worth pointing out and guarding against. If you 
stand on the seashore when the sky is cloudless, and 
look towards the sun, you will see the sunbeams 
falling solely on the line between your eye and the 
luminary, forming a pathway of light along the waves. 
If the shore were lined by a million men, only one 
line, kindled by the beams, would be visible to each of 
the million. Now Joseph corresponds, in the spiritual 
province, to one of those men who should allege that 
there was no sunlight in the air except what reached 
his own eye. The infinite benevolence is drawn into 
the focus of his small sect, his still smaller self, and 
by a strange perversion the affections shrink and 
shrivel even under that sense of Divine kindness 

The Minor Characters. 215 

which ought to have warmed, expanded, ennobled 

In boldness of invention and strength of handling, 
Joseph is like a grotesque by Michael Angelo ; gnarled 
and knotted as a stunted tree of the moorland ; his 
vinegar face perked into contemptuous rebuke of his 
fellow-creatures, his brow corrugated in an unhappy 
grudge that there is so much happiness left in the 
world. He is, indeed, little more than a sketch ; but 
the sketch, if we had nothing else from her hand, 
would attest the genius of Emily Bronte. 

Nelly Dean, Edgar Linton, and Lockwood, to 
whom might perhaps be added Zillah, though she is 
nothing more than an ordinary farm servant with 
some Yorkshire colour about her, are the neutral- 
tinted characters in the book, neither specially good 
nor pointedly bad. Emily Bronte evidently took too 
dark views of life, and was too ironical in her moods 
of mind, to rejoice in the delineation of heroes and 
heroines. Wuthering Heights is a novel without a 
hero, and with but a very marred and faulty specimen 
of a heroine. Charlotte speaks of the " true benevo- 
lence and homely fidelity " of Nelly Dean ; but in fact 
Nelly has generally an eye to the main chance, and 
only once forgets herself into a display of dangerous 
anger and courage, on which occasion " a touch on 
the chest " from Heathcliff silences her, she being, as 
she explains, " stout, and soon put out of breath." 
Lockwood is little more than a walking gentleman, 
but, viewed as a walking gentleman, he is made 

216 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

admirable use of. Not only are his successive visits 
to the gaunt manor-house on the Heights full of vivid 
and appropriate interest, and cunningly adapted to 
awaken the curiosity of the reader, but his reception 
by the various inmates enables us to realise, as we 
otherwise could not have done, the peculiar feeling of 
repulsion and dislike with which the natives of the 
Yorkshire wilds regard strangers. The moorland 
creatures have their own quarrels and spites ; but 
with creatures of another kind they admit no con- 
verse at all. Not only do Joseph and Heathcliff 
who look upon the smooth-spoken, conventional, 
studiously-polite Lockwood as shaggy mastiffs might 
on an Italian greyhound despise and repel him ; 
young Cathy will have nothing at all to say to him. 
He is outside her circle outside her sympathy; she 
answers snappishly when he volunteers the slightest 
act of interrogative courtesy. It is the instinctive 
shyness, suspicion, aversion of a kitten spitting at a 
puppy that wants to be civil. 

Edgar Linton is the morally best character in the 
book. Charlotte well describes him as "an example 
of constancy and tenderness." He is good, but sheep- 
ishly, ineffectually good. We cannot help feeling that 
Emily Bronte shares the contempt for him which is 
so intensely felt by If eathcliff, and so thinly disguised 
by his own wife Catherine. He has none of the 
mental power that is the fitting accompaniment, and 
indispensable stay, of goodness of heart. He not 
only fails to defend himself against Heathcliff, but 

Isabella and Her Son. 217 

commits the quite unpardonable oversight of making 
no provision for his daughter, and thus leaving he r 
an easy prey to the enemy of his house. 

Isabella Heathcliff and her son Linton are exceed- 
ingly remarkable studies of character. Isabella is 
feeble and morbid, with sickly propensities and a 
cold heart. Heathcliff hates her inflexibly from the 
day when she asks her father to put him into the 
cellar ; and yet, when he has grown up and revealed 
his badness, she will hanker after him, fall into foolish 
love with him, perversely, and in spite of all dissua- 
sion, and though he hardly condescends to pretend to 
care for her, throw herself into his arms. She becomes 
more rational and human when his cruelty drives her 
into irrepressible rage, and she escapes from him, to 
return no more. But we never have much regard for 
her ; only we have a profound sense of her reality, and 
of the fidelity with which she represents a morbid 
phase of feminine character. 

Her son and Heathcliff 's is, as Dobell remarked, 
unmistakably the offspring of those parents. Half is 
his and half is hers, and he is worthy of the two. The 
creature is bad very bad ; physically weak, mentally 
cross-grained, peevish, ill-conditioned. Terrible, once 
more, is the suggestion of the subtlety and cruelty, 
and blind and blank indifference to the production of 
misery, reigning in nature, which this dark, strange 
woman, this Emily Bronte, half hides, half reveals, in 
the character and history of Linton Heathcliff. I 
am not sure that young Heathcliff is not the most 

218 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

wonderful delineation in the book more wonderful 
even than his father or than either of the Catherines. 
A thin, wavering, gossamer-thread of existence is the 
boy's at best, and it is soon blown away in the chill 
wind of death ; yet we know him as vividly as we 
know any character in fiction. We know him not 
from the outside, but the inside, not merely the 
marking of the hands on the clock-face, but the wheels 
and sources of movement behind. This mode of 
revealing character, not so much by external incident 
as by psychological analysis by taking us, as Shak- 
speare does in the case of Macbeth, and Hamlet, and 
Brutus, and Angelo, and Claudio, into the mind is 
the most difficult and masterly of all. The whining 
self-pity, the incapacity to regard any one except in 
the light of his own interest, the pleased excitement 
of which he is conscious when his words give pain, 
manifested by young Heathcliff in conversation with 
his cousin, Cathy Linton, open to us the very arcana 
of his nature. I must quote a short passage to illus- 
trate these remarks. Nelly Dean details a conversa- 
tion between Linton Heathcliff and young Cathy. 
The reader is to recollect that young Cathy's mother 
had really loved Heathcliff, Linton Heathcliff 's father, 
though she gave her hand to Edgar Linton. 

"Yes," said Catherine, stroking his long, soft hair; "if I could 
only get papa's consent, I'd spend half my tune with you. Pretty 
Linton ! I wish you were my brother." " And then you would 
like me as well as your father ? " observed he, more cheerfully. 
"But papa says you would love me better than him and all the 
world if you were my wife ; so I'd rather you were that." " No ; 

Linton HeatJicliff. 219 

I should never love anybody better than papa," she returned, 
gravely. " And people hate their wives sometimes, but not then- 
sisters and brothers ; and if you were the latter, you would live 
with us, and papa would be as fond of you as he is of me." Linton 
denied that people ever hated their wives ; but Cathy affirmed they 
did, and in her wisdom instanced his own father's aversion to her 
aunt. I endeavoured to stop her thoughtless tongue. I couldn't 
succeed till everything she knew was out. Master Heathcliff, 
much irritated, asserted her relation was false. " Papa told me, 
and papa does not tell falsehoods," she answered, pertly. "My 
papa scorns yours!" cried Linton. "He calls him a sneaking 
fool." "Yours is a wicked man," retorted Catherine ; "and you 
are very naughty to dare to repeat what he says. He must be 
wicked to have made Aunt Isabella leave him as she did." " She 
didn't leave him," said the boy; "you shan't contradict me." 
" She did," cried my young lady. "Well, I'll tell you something," 
said Linton. "Your mother hated your father; now then." 
"Oh ! " exclaimed Catherine, too enraged to continue. " And she 
loved mine," added he. "You little liar ! I hate you now! " she 
panted, and her face grew red with passion. " She did ! she did! " 
sang Linton, sinking into the recess of his chair, and leaning 
back his head to enjoy the agitation of the other disputant, 
who stood behind. "Hush, Master Heathcliff!" I said; "that's 
your father's tale, too, I suppose." "It isn't; you hold your 
tongue," he answered. " She did, she did, Catherine ! she did, 
she did!" 

Cathy, beside herself, gave the chair a violent push, and 
caused him. to fall against one arm. He was immediately seized 
by a suffocating cough that soon ended his triumph. It lasted so 
long that it frightened even me. As to his cousin, she wept with 
all .her might, aghast at the mischief she had done, though she said 
nothing. I held him till the fit exhausted itself ; then he thrust 
me away, and leant his head down silently. Catherine quelled her 
lamentations also, took a seat opposite, and looked solemnly into 
the fire. " How do you feel now, Master Heathcliff? " I inquired, 
after waiting ten minutes. " I wish she felt as I do," he replied; 

" spiteful, cruel thing ! And I was better to-day; and there " 

his voice died in a whimper. "/ didn't strike you!" muttered 
Cathy, chewing her lip to prevent another burst of emotion. He 
sighed and moaned like one under great suffering, and kept it up 

220 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

for a quarter of an hour on purpose to distress his cousin, 
apparently, for whenever he caught a stifled sob from her, he put 
new pain and pathos into the inflexions of his voice. 

This combination of utter weakness with bitter 
badness is exactly what we should have looked for 
in the son of Heathcliff and Isabella Linton. And 
yet, with all his badness, there is in Linton Heath- 
cliff I know not what element of fineness and high 
breeding. The vase holds poison, but it is a vase of 
delicate porcelain, the creature is of demon breed, 
but, like Caliban, he has melodious tones in him, 
something almost fascinating, which, under favour- 
able auspices, might have made a dainty gentleman 
of him, if never a brave, healthy, good man. 



WHAT Heathcliff had been about in his absence 
from Wuthering Heights we are not in- 
formed. Emily Bronte shows her unacquaintance 
with, or, more probably, her contempt for, the re- 
sources of professional novelists, by not availing her- 
self of the opportunity of filling half-a-dozen chapters 
with an account of his adventures. We are per- 
mitted, if we like, to suppose that he robbed on the 
highway ; but all we are told is that he returned laden 
with money. Before he went, it had become the 
ruling passion of his soul to take revenge on Hindley 
Earnshaw, and to gratify this passion he now ad- 
dressed himself. His love for the elder Catherine, 
Hindley's sister, was as intense as before more in- 
tense it could not have been ; but she had, in his 
absence, become the wife of Edgar Linton. I shall 
not attempt either to prove it likely that Catherine, 
loving Heathcliff as she did, would have married 
Linton in real life, or to show that her marriage is 
pardonable in art. It was one of those unlikely 

222 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

things which, nevertheless, constantly happen. She 
was wayward, wilful, fantastically perverse and 
capricious as it is possible for woman to be ; she 
was little more than a girl. To calculate the pro- 
ceedings even of a man of genius is impossible, and 
what is there that a woman of genius and a vein 
of fiery genius there certainly was in Catherine may 
not do ? 

Her own account of her motives will, at least, give 
us some idea of her character. She was not, she 
explained to Nelly Dean, of the steady-going, respect- 
able, angelic order of women. If the truth must be 
told, the wild moors were more to her taste than 
heaven, and she would rather be among the flowers 
of the dells than bask on meadows of asphodel. " If 
I were in heaven, Nelly, I should be extremely miser- 
able I dreamt once that I was there. 

. . . . Heaven did not seem to be my home ; 
and I broke my heart with weeping to come back to 
earth ; and the angels were so angry that they flung 
me out into the middle of the heath on the top of 
Wuthering Heights, where I woke sobbing for joy." 
The reader will do well to remember that Emily 
Bronte could not live away from the moors, could 
not get her heart to fix with right satisfaction on 
anything away from the moors. She took an engage- 
ment in England; but she pined inconsolably, and, 
to save her life, they had to bring her back to 
Haworth. She went with Charlotte to Brussels ; 
but even the excitement of new splendours, new 

Heathcliff and Catherine. 223 

associates, new pursuits, which effectually weaned 
Charlotte from the nest among the hills, had no 
power upon Emily. " I've no more business," said 
Catherine, " to marry Edgar Linton than I have to 
be in heaven." Heathcliff was the wild Wuthering 
Heights of her heart, that she loved better than 
Linton, with his heaven of Thrushcross Grange. Of 
Heathcliff she said, "He's more myself than I am. 
Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are 
the same ; and Linton's is as different as a moon- 
beam from lightning or frost from fire." Nelly bids 
her consider how, if these are her feelings, she will 
be able, when she is Mrs. Linton, to bear separation 
from Heathcliff. She fiercely exclaims that no separa- 
tion will be necessary. " Every Linton on the face of 
the earth might melt into nothing before I could con- 
sent to forsake Heathcliff. Oh, that's not what I 
intend that's not what I mean ! I shouldn't be 
Mrs. Linton were such a price demanded. He'll be 
as much to me as he has been all his life-time. Edgar 
mustshaFe^off his antipathy, and tolerate him, at 
least. He will, when he learns my true feelings 
towards him." This will seem mere affectation or 
girlish folly unless we realise the fact, essentially im- 
portant in order to do justice either to Catherine or 
to Emily Bronte, that there is no sensual element 
whatever in Catherine's love for Heathcliff, or in 
Heathcliff 's love for her. It is this which makes 
the conception of the pair so original this which 
proves Emily Bronte to have had transcendent power 

224 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

as an artist. A mere sensual passion between Heath- 
cliff and Cathy would have been as valueless in art 
as that which vulgarises and defiles the first canto of 
Don Juan. Catherine's idea is that she will love 
Heathcliff as her soul's friend and brother, while her 
affection for her husband will remain flawless and un- 
sullied. Aided by Linton such, she further explains 
to Nelly, is her hope she will rescue Heathcliff from 
the cruelty of Hindley, and put him in the way of 
rising. Nelly, who speaks for respectable common 
sense, reprobates such a scheme. But Catherine per- 
sists in her self-defence, and tries to explain how she 
feels about Heathcliff, while avowing that she cannot 
put the matter into words. " I cannot express it ; 
but surely you and everybody have a notion that 
there is, or should be, an existence of yours beyond 
you. ... If all else perished and he remained, I 
should still continue to be ; and if all else remained, 
and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to 
a mighty stranger : I should not seem a part of it. 
My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods : 
time will change it, I'm well aware, as winter changes 
the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the 
eternal rocks beneath a source of little visible delight, 
but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff ! He's always, 
always in my mind : not as a pleasure, any more than 
I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own 

The marriage with Linton took place, and when 
Heathcliff reappeared, Catherine tried to carry out 

Heathcliff and Catherine. 225 

her plan of having him as her friend on Platonic 
principles. Heathcliff 's love for her was of the same 
kind as hers for him, and there is not the remotest 
suggestion nor does such ever occur to her husband 
that she gives Linton more cause for jealousy than 
she might have done if Heathcliff had been her 
brother. Heathcliff, indeed, acts infamously, but not 
in the vulgar way. He gives rein to his hatred for 
Linton, is utterly regardless of Linton's happiness, 
and produces a storm of varied agitation in the 
Thrushcross household, which brings a feverish and 
nervous illness on Catherine, and finally occasions 
her death. Heathcliff speaks of his affection for 
Catherine as Catherine had spoken of hers for him. 
She is his life, his soul. If she dies, he will live with 
his soul in the grave. He charges her with having 
broken his heart and her own in leaving him and 
marrying Linton. " You loved me then what right 
had you to leave me ? " " Let me alone, let me 
alone," sobbed Catherine. "If I've done wrong, I'm 
dying for it. It is enough ! You left me, too ; but I 
won't upbraid you. I forgive you. Forgive me." " It 
is hard to forgive, and to look at those eyes, and feel 
those wasted hands," he answered. " Kiss me again ; 
and don't let me see your eyes ! I forgive what you 
have done to me. I love my murderer but yours ! 
How can I?" 

She fainted in Heathcliff 's arms, and he placed her 
in those of her husband, bidding him help her. That 
night she died. " Next morning bright and cheerful 


226 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

out of doors stole softened in through the blinds of 
the silent room, and suffused the couch and its occu- 
pant with a mellow, tender glow. Her brow smooth, 
her lids closed, her lips wearing an expression of a 
Y smile, no angel in heaven could be more beautiful than 
j? 4] Aghe appeared." 

F v^ ^ The death of Catherine must be considered to have 
driven Heathcliff mad. He could not and would not 
realise that she had left him, and that he was alone. 
%7 "Where is she?" he cried, when Nelly Dean told 
-' him she was dead ; " not there not in heaven not 
v ^5\ perished where ? Oh ! you said you cared nothing 
for my sufferings ! And I pray one prayer I repeat it 
till my tongue stiffens Catherine Earnshaw, may you 
not rest as long as I am living! You said I killed 
you haunt me, then ! The murdered do haunt their 
murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wan- 
dered on earth. Be with me always take any form 
drive me mad ! only do not leave me in this abyss, 
where I cannot find you ! I cannot live without my 
life ! I cannot live without my soul ! " Having uttered 
these words, Heathcliff dashed his head against the 
knotted trunk of a tree, and " howled, not like a man, 
but like a savage beast being goaded to death with 
knives and spears." 

For eighteen years after Catherine's death, he be- 
lieved himself haunted by her presence. In paroxysms 
of agonised entreaty he implored her to make herself 
more sensibly present ; and at last his mania rose to 
such a pitch that he believed she had granted his 

Heathcliff Mad. 227 

request, and was near him, generally invisible, but 
sometimes in visible form. Before entering on this 
last stage of his malady, he had been atrociously 
wicked and cruel. He completed the ruin of Hindley 
by gambling and intoxication, he diabolically ill-treated 
his own wife and son. Even to young Cathy, the 
daughter of his Catherine, he acted with revolting 
cruelty, until the shade or spectre of her mother 
seemed to arise to protect her. The last phase of his/ r f 
madness was that of tolerance for others and harsh- * 
ness to himself. He went about in a high fever, 
declining food, and roaming, night and day, on the 
moors. Then he died, and was buried. But if the 
dwellers on the moors might be believed, he was not 
at rest, and was not alone. " That old man," says 
Nelly Dean, "by the kitchen fire affirms he has seen 
two on 'em, looking out of his chamber window on 
every rainy night since his death : and an odd thing 
happened to me about a month ago. I was going to 
the Grange one evening a dark evening, threatening 
thunder and, just at the turn of the Heights, I en- 
countered a little boy with a sheep and two lambs 
before him ; he was crying terribly, and I supposed 
the lambs were skittish, and would not be guided. 
' What is the matter, my little man ? ' I asked. 
' There's Heathcliff and a woman, yonder, under 
t'Nab,' he blubbered, * un' I darnut pass 'em.' " 

Such, in imperfect and sketchy outline, are the 
main features of this astonishing book. My sketch 
of its contents does less than justice to the author; 


228 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

but enough has been said and quoted to convey some 
idea of Wuthering Heights. It is a work of great 
genius, but of genius reared within sight of graves, 
and amid the winds and mists of the moorland. The 
morbid and maddening affection with which Heathcliff 
and Catherine cling to each other was exactly such an 
affection, so intense, so unreasonable, so original, as 
that with which Emily Bronte clung to Haworth. 
And on Emily, as on Catherine, death descended in 
the prime of her years. With few changes, the illness 
and death of Catherine might stand for the illness 
and death of Emily. The book cannot be pronounced 
a good or a wholesome book. It exaggerates the evil 
that is in the world, for it does not show the light in 
due proportion to the darkness. If Haworth Par- 
sonage, beside its graves, moaned around by the wind 
of the moors, were all the world, then might the 
gloom of Wuthering Heights be accepted for the 
atmosphere of the planet. But it is not so ; and the 
best that can be said for the book is that it is the 
product of marvellous genius that never freely and 
genially expanded ; genius that never rose into the 
blue sky of hope and joy ; genius that seems to have 
watched, and wailed, and waited for God, and yet 
never once saw His eye light up the " wildering 
clouds " above and around. 

Curiously suggestive, in relation to Emily Bronte, 
is Charlotte's reference to the late Mr. G. H. Lewes : 

" I have seen Lewes too I could not feel 

otherwise to him than half sadly, half tenderly a 

Emily Bronte and Mr. Lewes. 229 

queer word that last ; but I use it because the aspect 
of Lewes's face almost moves me to tears ; it is so 
wonderfully like Emily her eyes, her features, the 
very nose, the somewhat prominent mouth, the fore- 
head ; even, at moments, the expression." This is the 
sole resource we have in realising the face of Emily 
Bronte, since no portrait except the "rough and 
common-looking oil-painting," executed by her brother 
in his boyhood, which Charlotte did not think worth 
mention when her publishers wanted likenesses of her 
sisters, was taken of her. That she should have 
resembled Mr. Lewes, both in features and expression, 
seems at first surprising. Whether there is, or is not, 
an art to read the mind's construction in the face, it 
is certain that, unless what her Yorkshire neighbours 
alleged as to the moroseness and reserve of Emily 
Bronte be calumnious, and unless the settled gloom 
of her writings bears false witness, her disposition and 
temperament were pointedly in contrast with those of 
G. H. Lewes, one of the most vivacious, nimble- 
spirited and happy-spirited of authors. Nevertheless, 
it is unquestionable that the basis of his entire scheme 
of thought was the proposition that man has, and can 
have, no certitude respecting immortality and God. 
He had travelled to all shrines of wisdom ; consulted 
the sages of antiquity and the philosophers of Europe ; 
listened to Descartes and Leibnitz and Spinoza, to 
Hume and Kant and Reid, and, lastly, to Comte ; 
and announced to his countrymen, as the result, in 
lucid English, and with the serene good-humour of 


230 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

perfect assurance, that God, if He did exist, was the 
unknown X of the universe beyond reason, beyond 
faith, beyond possible communion. Whether, in the 
course of arriving at this conclusion, Mr. Lewes passed 
through seasons of mental anguish, I cannot tell ; but 
his books are remarkable for their genial vivacity, 
their sweetness of tone and temper, their almost 
unparalleled range, not only of tolerance, but of 
sympathetic and kindly tolerance. Having entirely 
satisfied himself that there is no Infinite Spirit in 
the universe corresponding in any sense to the father 
in a human household, or the king in a nation of men, 
he betrays no sense of bereavement, gives no sign of 
sorrow. He does not, indeed, exult ; arrogance and 
scornful flippancy belong to a lower and baser kind of 
man ; but neither is he in the least distressed, and we 
feel that, if questioned on the point, he would have 
said that his no-belief was true, and that to dwell with 
truth must always be better for man than to yield to 
the most soothing falsehood. 

I beg to have it clearly understood that I do not put 
forward the theory that Emily Bronte was an atheist. 
Charlotte has let fall no hint to that effect, and if 
Emily had made up her mind that there is no God, it 
seems highly improbable that she could have pre- 
vented a sister with whom she lived on terms of 
unusual confidence and affection from having some 
glimpse of the fact. Charlotte herself was not only 
a believer in God, but derived perpetual practica^ 
sustenance in her daily life and work from refer- 

Emily Bronte not an Atheist. 231 

ence to a Judge who could not err and a Father 
who could not misunderstand. When she read the 
atheistic volume published by Miss Martineau and 
Mr. Atkinson, she shrank back appalled from the 
abyss then first opened to her. " Sincerely," she 
said, " for my own part, do I wish to find and 
know the Truth ; but if this be Truth, well may 
she guard herself with mysteries and cover herself 
with a veil. If this be Truth, man or woman who 
beholds her can but curse the day he or she was 
born." These words remind one of those in which 
Sir William Hamilton declares that if atheism were 
true, the last word of philosophy to man would be 
the terrific message of the oracle to CEdipus, " May 
you never know the secret of your birth." 

Emily Bronte, as I conceive her character, occupied 
the position of having sought God and not found Him, 
but did not proceed to infer that He had never been 
found, and had no existence. She was oppressed with 
a sense of the power of evil and the ineffectuality of 
good, and yearned with inexpressible and agonised 
earnestness for a clearer discovery of God than she 
had been able to attain to. She would not use a 
language she could not verify, or pretend to trace the 
light of God's eye when she could not see it ; but she 
was solitary and sad, no human being rightly compre- 
hended her, and her writings are a despairing cry to 
God for light. A universe without God was for her a 
universe of night and chaos, the wail of infinite be- 
reavement rising from its human habitations. But it 

232 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

is a highly remarkable circumstance that, with so deep 
a similarity, and at the same time so marked a dis- 
similarity, in their relation to the fundamental beliefs 
of religion, Emily Bronte and G. H. Lewes should 
have had the same, certainly uncommon, type of 



BEONTE puts into brilliant and 
picturesque language a theory, partly expla- 
natory, partly apologetic, on the subject of such 
literary work as we have in Wuthering Heights. 
"Whether," she says, "it is right or advisable to 
create beings like Heathcliff, I do not know: I 
scarcely think it is. But this I know; the writer 
who possesses the creative gift owns something of 
which he is not always master something that, at 
times, strangely wills and works for itself. He may 
lay down rules and devise principles, and to rules and 
principles it will, perhaps, for years lie in subjection ; 
and then, haply without any warning of revolt, there 
comes a time when it will no longer consent to 
' harrow the valleys, or be bound with a band in the 
furrow ' when it ' laughs at the multitude of the city, 
and regards not the crying of the driver ' when, re- 

234 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

fusing absolutely to make ropes out of sea-sand any 
longer, it sets to work on statue-hewing, and you have 
a Pluto or a Jove, a Tisiphone or a Psyche, a Mer- 
maid or a Madonna, as Fate or Inspiration direct. Be 
the work grim or glorious, dread or divine, you have 
little choice left but quiescent adoption. As for you 
the nominal artist your share in it has been to work 
passively under dictates you neither delivered nor 
could question that would not be uttered at your 
prayer, nor suppressed nor changed at your caprice." 
That genius is apt to lay imperative commands on its 
possessor, and that there is the inspiration of genius in 
Wuihering Heights, I should be the last to dispute ; 
but it were rash to admit that genius is not responsible 
for its creations. And even if this were granted, it 
would remain incontrovertible that the characteristic 
creations of literary genius the portraits it delights to 
depict, the scenes it loves to describe, the incidents it 
habitually invents are trustworthy indications of the 
nature of the artist. Even the religious inspiration, 
which is more intense and transforming in its potency 
than the literary inspiration, has been held by all wise 
theologians to irradiate but never to obliterate or mis- 
represent the natural character. Both the poems and 
the prose work of Emily Bronte lie in pessimistic 
shadow as dark and deep as that cast by the storm- 
clouds on the sea in Turner's murkiest pictures of 
shipwreck. We ought, indeed, to recollect that she 
died young ; that young persons of genius are apt to 
lay stress upon the tragic tones in life; that, if she 

Charlotte on Wuthering Heights. 235 

had lived to be sixty, she might have produced so 
many sunny and healthy works, that the grim 
grotesque of her 'prentice hand would have been 
thrown into the background. Against this, however, 
we must in fairness set the fact, that the execution of 
Wuthering Heights is singularly mature the style 
such as practised and consummate writers use, the 
sentiment free of young-mannish bravura, and, still 
more, of young- womanish syllabub. The author never 
seems for one moment to lose her self-possession and 
self-command. Had Shakespeare written Lear before 
he was thirty, and died, we should have had a right to 
believe that he took a pessimistic view of life ; and of 
Emily Bronte we must hold that she was morbidly 
pessimistic. " I am oppressed," says Charlotte, after 
reading the book anew in 1850 : " the reader is 
scarcely ever permitted a taste of unalloyed pleasure ; 
every beam of sunshine is poured down through black 
bars of threatening cloud ; every page is surcharged 
with a sort of moral electricity." 

It is, however, the sunny book above all, it is the 
sunny novel that the world most cordially takes to ; 
and we may doubt whether Emily Bronte's name 
would ever have obtained a place in the chronicles 
of English literature, if the more buoyant and happy 
genius of her sister had not fairly scaled the horizon, 
and drawn all eyes to the wonder that had appeared 
somewhere among the Yorkshire hills. 

Mr. Wemyss Keid seems to me to be correct in 
deciding that the main determining incident in 

236 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

Charlotte Bronte's life was not the death of her 
brother, but her own residence, at two successive 
periods, in Brussels. When the change to her im- 
mense from native Yorkshire to the Belgian capital 
took place, she was twenty-six years old, but had very 
much to learn. M. Heger, the head of the seminary 
to which she went as a pupil, declared that she and 
her sister Emily knew nothing of French. He meant, 
I presume, that they had no extensive or finely accu- 
rate acquaintance with the language, and set about 
drilling them in the fashion adopted with his advanced 
French and Belgian pupils. His experience with the 
sisters was what we should have expected. " Emily," 
says Mrs. Gaskell, summarising the Belgian head- 
master's estimate, "had a head for logic, and a capa- 
bility for argument, unusual in a man, and rare, in- 
deed, in a woman." He thought Emily abler than 
Charlotte ; but, unfortunately, " a stubborn tenacity 
of will," " impairing " in his view the force of her 
genius, rendered her occasionally impervious to his 
instructions, " where her own wishes, or her own 
sense of right, was concerned." We may interpret 
this to mean that she chose to retain in her com- 
positions the idiom of her native English, and in con- 
ventional morals her "heretic" and Protestant ideas, 
rather than to have her forms of expression and her 
notions of truth passed through M. Heger's mill. The 
style of Emily Bronte is thoroughly English. 

In Charlotte's case M. Heger had not to deplore 
any tenacity of will resisting his influence. She 

Charlotte and M. Heger. 237 

delighted in feeling herself once more a schoolgirl. 
" It is natural," she said, " to me to submit, and very 
unnatural to command." I believe the characterisa- 
tion to be just. It would be correct also, if applied to 
Mrs. Barrett Browning, and, I think, though some 
might dispute the fact, to George Eliot. But there 
are women to whom it does not apply, women to 
whom it is unnatural and painful to submit, and 
natural and pleasant to command. Emily Bronte, I 
take it, was one of these last. Whether submission 
would have been so pleasant for Charlotte if M. Heger 
had not been what he was, may remain a question. 
Him she describes as " a man of power as to mind, 
but very choleric and irritable in temperament." The 
words describe the essential characteristic of Charlotte 
Bronte's pet hero, be his name Rochester, or be it 
Moore, or be it Paul Emanuel. A clever man, with 
strongly-marked features, who is fervently in love 
with a plain girl, to whom, while he longs to clasp 
her to his heart, he talks harshly, is the man whom 
Charlotte Bronte always hero-worships. 

Under M. Heger 's auspices and instruction, Char- 
lotte learned to write French so well that her English 
style became thenceforward characteristically French. 
Her devoir on the death of Napoleon is written in 
French which I may err in pronouncing classic of the 
best modern French school ; but it certainly has a 
tone and air characteristically French, and yet it 
reads exactly like a passage from her English prose 
translated into French. " Napoleon " this is the 

238 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

opening passage " naquit en Corse et mourut a Ste. 
Helene. Entre ces deux lies rien qu'un vaste et 
brulant desert et 1'ocean immense. II naquit fils d'un 
simple gentilhomme, et mourut empereur, mais sans 
couronne et dans les fers. Entre son berceau et sa 
tombe qu'y a-t-il ? La carriere d'un soldat parvenu, des 
champs de bataille, un mer de sang, un trone, puis de 
sang encore, et des fers. La vie, c'est 1'arc en ciel ; 
les deux points extremes touchant la terre, la comble 
lumineuse mesure les cieux. Sur Napoleon au berceau 
une mere brillait; dans la maison paternelle il avait 
des freres et des soeurs ; plus tard dans son palais il eut 
une femme qui 1'aimait. Mais ur son lit de mort 
Napoleon est seul ; plus de mere, ni de frere, ni de 
soeur, ni de femme, ni d' enfant ! ! D'autres ont dit et 
rediront ses exploits, moi, je m'arrete a contempler 
I'abandonnement de sa derniere heure ! " 

Did not the writer of this evidently, while writing 
it, think in French? And did not Charlotte Bronte, 
when writing in English, write in exactly the same 
way? In other words, her style was French. In 
some very important respects no style could be better. 
It is clear as crystal, pointed as diamond, admirably 
fitted for rapid and animated narrative, as well as for 
the description of passion. But I think that, in 
variety and expressiveness, it is not equal to those 
English styles which are formed on the best Teutonic 
models. The ornamental, the fashionable, the courtly, 
to a great extent also the martial elements in our 
language, are French ; the homelier and the heartier 

Charlotte's Style French. 239 

are Teutonic; and striking as is much of the prose 
written by those of our young authors who have 
brought French models again into vogue, it cannot 
vie, in respect of expressiveness, or home-bred tender- 
ness, or Doric simplicity and idiomatic pith and 
melody, with the prose of Carlyle's early essays, such 
as that on Burns, or the prose in which George Eliot 
wrote Silas Marner. The culture, both of Carlyle 
and George Eliot, was mainly German. 

Of her experience in Brussels, Charlotte Bronte 
availed herself in the composition of two novels, her 
first and her last The Professor and Villette. Critics 
have loudly praised Villette, and I do not recollect 
seeing anything said in commendation of The Pro- 
fessor ; but I own to finding it a stiffer business to 
read the later than the earlier book. The Professor, I 
make bold to say, has not received due appreciation. 
It is by no means a wonderful book, but it has signal 
merits. Nothing could be more sharp than the chisel- 
ling of the characters, which are neither uninteresting 
nor commonplace, and the story is full of life. Huns- 
den is unmistakably a first sketch of the Yorke of 
Shirley, and the school scenes, though not so care- 
fully elaborated as those in Villette, are, to my think- 
ing, more fresh, and, in general respects, about as 
good. Frances, of The Professor, is perhaps somewhat 
too commonplace for a heroine : but not even a critic 
has, to my knowledge, been found who could care for 
the Lucy Snowe of Villette. The following passage 
will enable us to realise the hopeful and cheerful spirit 

240 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

of Charlotte Bronte's first book, and has a biographical 
interest as manifestly recalling the impressions with 
which she first looked upon Belgium. 

Belgium ! name unromantic and unpoetic, yet name that when- 
ever uttered has in my ear a sound, in my heart an echo, such as 
no other assemblage of syllables, however sweet or classic, can 
produce. Belgium ! I repeat the word, now as I sit alone near 
midnight. It stirs my world of the past like a summons to 
resurrection; the graves unclose, the dead are raised; thoughts* 
feelings, memories that slept are seen by me ascending from the 
clods haloed most of them ; but while I gaze on their vapoury 
forms, and strive to ascertain definitely their outline, the sound 
which wakened them dies, and they sink, each and all, like a light 
wreath of mist, absorbed in the mould, re-called to urns, re-sealed 
in monuments. Farewell, luminous phantoms ! 

This is Belgium, reader. Look ! don't call the picture a flat or 
a dull one it was neither flat nor dull to me when I first beheld 
it. When I left Ostend on a mild February morning, and found 
myself on the road to Brussels, nothing could look vapid to me- 
My sense of enjoyment possessed an edge whetted to the finest 
untouched, keen, exquisite. I was young ; I had good health 5 
pleasure and I had never met ; no indulgence of hers had enervated 
or sated one faculty of my nature. Liberty I clasped in my arms 
for the first time, and the influence of her smile and embrace 
revived my life like the sun and the west wind. Yes, at that epoch 
I felt like a morning traveller who doubts not that from the hill he 
is ascending he shall behold a glorious sunrise ; what if the track 
be straight, steep, and stony ? He sees it not ; his eyes are fixed 
on that summit, flushed already, flushed and gilded, and having 
gained it, he is certain of the scene beyond. He knows that the 
sun will face him, that his chariot is even now coming over the 
eastern horizon, and that the herald breeze he feels on his cheek 
is opening for the god's career a clear, vast path of azure, amidst 
clouds soft as pearl and warm as flame. Difficulty and toil were 
to be my lot ; but, sustained by energy, drawn on by hopes as 
bright as vague, I deemed such a lot no hardship. I mounted 
now the hill in shade ; there were pebbles, inequalities, briars in 
my path ; but my eyes were fixed on the crimson peak above ; my 
imagination was with the refulgent firmament beyond, and I 

Belgium. 241 

thought nothing of the stones turning under my feet, or of the 
thorns scratching my face and hands. 

I gazed often, and always with delight, from the window of the 
diligence (these, be it remembered, were not the days of trains and 
railroads). Well! and what did I see? I will tell you faithfully. 
Green, reedy swamps ; fields fertile, but flat, cultivated in patches 
that made them look like magnified kitchen-gardens ; belts of cut 
trees, formal as pollard willows, skirting the horizon ; narrow 
canals, gliding slow by the roadside ; painted Flemish farmhouses ; 
some very dirty hovels; a grey, dead sky; wet road, wet fields, 
wet house-tops ; not a beautiful, scarcely a picturesque, object met 
my eye along the whole route ; yet to me all was beautiful, all was 
more than picturesque. It continued fair so long as daylight 
lasted, though the moisture of many preceding damp days had 
sodden the whole country; as it grew dark, however, the rain 
recommenced, and it was through streaming and starless darknes 8 
my eye caught the first gleam of the lights of Brussels. I saw 
little of the city but its lights that night. Having alighted from 

the diligence, a fiacre conveyed me to the Hotel de , where I 

had been advised by a fellow-traveller to put up. Having eaten a 
traveller's supper, I retired to bed, and slept a traveller's sleep. 

Charlotte, as we saw, was favourably impressed by 
M. Heger, and enjoyed life in Brussels ; but one thing 
pained and offended the instincts of her nature so 
bitterly that she wrote vehemently of it both in her 
first book and in her last. The " plague-spot of dissi- 
mulation," she said, rested upon each and all of 
those girls who were reared under the influence of 
Eome and the Jesuits. " Most of them could lie with 
audacity when it appeared advantageous to do so. All 
understood the art of speaking fair when a point was 
to be gained. Backbiting and tale-bearing were uni- 
versal." On girls from the United Kingdom she 
was severe enough, but she " could at a glance dis- 
tinguish the daughter of Albion and nursling of 


242 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

Protestantism from the foster-child of Borne, the 
protegee of Jesuistry." In making these assertions 
Charlotte Bronte guards herself against being sup- 
posed to speak from prejudice against Popish theology. 
Her own experience it is that she states, professing 
her inability to account for the facts except on the 
supposition that the cause " is to be found in the dis- 
cipline, if not the doctrines, of the Church of Kome." 
Between the composition of The Professor and that 
of Villette, something like ten years intervened, and 
during these Charlotte had mingled in the best in- 
tellectual society of London ; yet in Villette the 
demoralising influences of the Romish discipline are 
described with a force at least equal to that displayed 
in the earlier book. " In an unguarded moment," she 
writes, in the person of her heroine, " I chanced to say 
that, of the two errors, I considered falsehood worse 
than an occasional lapse in church attendance." From 
that time she was differently regarded by the girls. 
They had told the school authorities what she said, 
and were instructed to look upon her as dangerous. 
"Not a soul," she says, "in Madame Beck's house, 
from the scullion to the directress herself, but was 
above being ashamed of a lie ; they thought nothing 
of it. ' J'ai menti plusieurs fois ' formed an item of 
every girl's and every woman's monthly confession : 
the priest heard unshocked, and absolved unreluctant. 
If they had missed going to mass, or read a chapter of 
a novel, that was another thing ; these were crimes 
whereof rebuke and penance were the unfailing meed." 

ViUette. 243 

Villette has been lauded to the skies by critics, but 
the book has never been popular, and its failure as 
a pecuniary success, in comparison with Jane Eyre, 
was one of the bitterest disappointments of Charlotte 
Bronte's closing years. There is a tone of remon- 
strance, nay, of irritation and complaint, in some of 
her references to the reception of the book; and 
she says, half-mournfully, haH-reproachfully, when 
commenting on the general verdict, that but two in 
the world had understood her, and that both were 
dead. Yet the result was not in the slightest degree 
astonishing, nor is it easy to believe that, if Charlotte 
Bronte had given full play to her excellent critical 
faculty in relation to the matter, she would not have 
been able to anticipate, if, indeed, she would not have 
averted, the failure. 

She wrote the book, for one thing, and a very im- 
portant thing, when in bad health and suffering under 
constant depression. With immense strength of will 
she performed her task, but the tide of inspiration had 
ebbed, and she wrote with effort. In the second place, 
she chose a subject which presented practically in- 
superable difficulties. " Out of so small a circle of 
characters," exclaims Mrs. Gaskell, in the plenitude 
of her admiration, " dwelling in so dull and mono- 
tonous an area as a ' pension,' this wonderful tale 
was evolved ! " Yes. The tale deserves the epithet, 
wonderful. All honour to the author who wielded the 
magical wand that " evolved " its scenes and incidents ; 
all credit to the critics who celebrated the feat "with 


244 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

one burst of acclamation." But the great world does 
not care a straw whether a work of fiction is a miracle 
of evolution or not, but only whether the thing evolved 
is an interesting novel. Charlotte Bronte, when 
writing of Miss Austen, seems to be quite aware that 
the novelist must have suitable materials if he is to 
succeed. She complains that, in Pride and Prejudice, 
we have " a carefully-fenced, highly-cultivated garden, 
with neat borders and delicate flowers ; but no glance 
of a bright, vivid physiognomy, no open country, no 
fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck." And what 
have we in Villette? The routine of what Mrs. 
Gaskell calls a "pension" the schoolrooms and 
dwelling-rooms and fine gardens of an educational 
establishment in Brussels. It must be confessed that 
the interest of mankind in education, as a subject of 
entertainment, is limited. Schoolmasters and school- 
mistresses, clever and affectionate pupils, or stupid and 
heartless, are not capable of being made so interesting 
to the mass of mankind as more picturesque and 
open-air personages. And then the charm at which 
Charlotte so felicitously hints the charm of blue hill 
and bonny beck, of woods and moors, and craggy 
heathery dells the charm whose fascination is so 
pervasively felt in Jane Eyre and Shirley, is absent 
in Villette. 

School life, skilfully treated, may, of course, come in 
admirably in a novel, but it must by no means occupy 
almost the whole of the three volumes. In Jane Eyre 
the school scenes are telling and effective. Whether 

The School Scenes in Jane Eyre. 245 

it is because the few chapters in which we are intro- 
duced to Mr. Brocklehurst and Miss Temple, to Miss 
Scatcherd and Helen Burns, are written with more 
subtle and heart-reaching power than the ampler 
descriptions of school life in The Professor and Villette, 
or whether it is simply because they are short, certain 
it is that they excite a far livelier interest than is 
awakened by the others. The school-girl, Jane Eyre, 
is a singularly vivid and accurate miniature likeness of 
Charlotte herself. The impetuosity with which little 
Jane resents injustice, whether to herself or to her 
friends the fierce haste, for instance, with which she 
tears from the forehead of Helen Burns, and flings into 
the fire, the badge of " Slattern" can hardly fail to 
remind us of Charlotte's curt and stinging letter to 
Mr. Lewes, when she thought he had unfairly criti- 
cised her, after having made demonstrations of friend- 
liness. "I can be on my guard against my enemies, 
but God deliver me from my friends ! " 

In describing Helen Burns, a true effect in pathos is 
attained, and pathos is rare in Charlotte Bronte's 
books. " When I should be listening to Miss 
Scatcherd," says the self-accusing Helen, " and col- 
lecting all she says with assiduity, often I lose the 
very sound of her voice. I fall into a sort of dream. 
Sometimes I think I am in Northumberland, and that 
the noises I hear round me are the bubbling of a little 
brook, which runs through Deepden near our house ; 
then, when it comes to my turn to reply, I have to 
be wakened ; and, having heard nothing of what was 

246 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

read for listening to the visionary brook, I have no 
answer ready." The reference to the brooks of North- 
umberland reminds us that we are in the country; 
and this is not the only touch of out-of-door and out- 
of-town fascination that tends to make it pleasanter to 
read of the Lowood Seminary than of the more im- 
posing one in Brussels. Here is another glimpse of 
the sylvan surroundings of Lowood : " April advanced 
to May. A bright, serene May it was ; days of blue 
sky, placid sunshine, and soft western or southern 
gales filled up its duration. And now vegetation 
matured with vigour ; Lowood shook loose its tresses ; 
it became all green, all flowery. Its great elm, ash, 
and oak skeletons were restored to majestic life ; wood- 
land plants sprang up profusely in its recesses ; un- 
numbered varieties of moss filled its hollows, and it 
made a strange ground-sunshine out of the wealth of 
its wild primrose plants. I have seen their pale gold 
gleam in overshadowed spots like scatterings of the 
sweetest lustre." 



THE Professor, though not itself deemed satis- 
factory, was considered by Messrs. Smith and 
Elder, the enterprising and sagacious publishers to 
whom Charlotte Bronte had offered it, to afford 
evidence that Currer Bell could produce a splen- 
didly successful novel in three volumes. Charlotte's 
previous efforts had been but enough to awake in her 
a surmise of her genius, and to accustom her to her 
tools as a literary artist. She now worked with all her 
might, heart engaged as well as brain, with that con- 
centrated energy, and that exultation in the outgoing 
of power, which preclude haste yet secure speed. It 
is a great mistake to suppose that when artist-work, 
whether of the pencil or of the pen, is quickly done, 
it is necessarily hastily done. Haste throws off with 
slovenly indifference sheet after sheet of heartless and 
colourless task- work; genius, rejoicing in congenial 
activity, doing easily what it does consummately well, 

248 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

joins the patient strength of the horse to the wings of 
a bird, as the wise Greeks signified by their fable of 
Pegasus. It may safely be said that all art- work 
which is not, in this sense, quick work, is not 
supremely excellent. The novel which Charlotte 
Bronte produced under these circumstances was 
published in the autumn of 1847, and before the 
end of the year it had taken its place as one of the 
most popular novels in the world. To this day it 
holds, in general estimation throughout Europe and 
America, the first place among her books. It was 
cast in the unpromising form of an autobiography 
of a governess, and named Jane Eyre. 

The earlier chapters are a model of those preludings 
which, interesting themselves, ought always to prepare 
the way for, and to yield complete precedence to, the 
main interest in a three-volume novel. The heroine, 
introduced to us in early girlhood, is realised with 
decisive and errorless touches, few but sufficient. She 
was one to be vehemently liked by some, to be un- 
affectedly detested by a much larger number. Abbot, 
Mrs. Keed's maid, defined her as "a tiresome, ill- 
conditioned child, who always looked as if she were 
watching everybody, and scheming plots underhand." 
Yet all her fault was that she was thoughtful, quiet, 
gentle, deficient in animal spirits, and plain in feature. 
She could be interested in books, and loved fairy tales. 
She had looked for the elves " among foxglove leaves 
and bells, under mushrooms and beneath the ground- 
ivy mantling old wall-nooks," and had at length owned 

Jane and the Reed*. 249 

"the sad truth that they were all gone out of Eng- 
land." Such a little creature would seem to vulgar 
worldlings, like Abbot and her coarse, red-faced 
mistress, to be perpetually asserting a claim to 
spiritual superiority, and would be hated with the 
perfect hatred wherewith animals of all species, the 
human emphatically included, regard creatures that 
are strange, and alien, and perhaps superior, to 

Villanously ill-treated as our small heroine was by 
the red-faced Keed and her brute son, John, the author 
avoids Dickens-ish caricature by letting us see how 
natural it was for such persons to be rude and cruel to 
Jane. " I was a discord," writes the latter, com- 
menting on the experiences of her childhood, " in 
Gateshead Hall ; I was like nobody there ; I had 
nothing in harmony with Mrs. Reed or her children, 
or her chosen vassalage. If they did not love me, in 
fact, as little did I love them. They were not bound 
to regard with affection a thing that could not sympa- 
thise with one amongst them ; a heterogeneous thing, 
opposed to them in temperament, in capacity, in pro- 
pensities ; a useless thing, incapable of serving their 
interest, or adding to their pleasure ; a noxious thing, 
cherishing the germs of indignation at their treatment, 
of contempt of their judgment. I know that had I 
been a sanguine, brilliant, careless, exacting, hand- 
some, romping child though equally dependent and 
friendless Mrs. Reed would have endured my presence 
more complacently." And again, with still more preg- 

250 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

nant suggestiveness : " Mrs. Keed, to you I owe some 
fearful pangs of mental suffering. But I ought to 
forgive you, for you knew not what you did : while 
rending my heart-strings, you thought you were only 
uprooting my bad propensities." 

These words convey a most valuable hint to all 
engaged in the up-bringing of the young. Mis- 
understandings are easy to produce, hard to destroy. 
I was once in boyhood driven almost to despair by 
a teacher, an able man, and not unduly harsh, who 
quite misunderstood me, and yet, when I reflect on 
the whole of the circumstances, I cannot fix upon 
any point in which he was culpable; and I have 
seen the ablest schoolmaster under whom I ever sat 
Dr. Melvin, of Aberdeen most severely reprimand, in 
presence of the whole class, a boy who was perfectly 
innocent of what was imputed to him. " Jane, I 
don't like cavillers or questioners," said Mrs. Reed, 
when the little girl objected to be wrongfully accused. 
But without questioning, nay, ample and fine cross- 
questioning, the truth is often not to be come at ; and 
of this it is generally impossible for the teacher, com- 
pelled to be judge, jury, and, in most cases, sole 
witness in his own court, to have the advantage. 
Children, besides, and even boys and girls well-grown, 
have limited powers of expression, and do not know 
how to enter upon an explanation. What is wanted is 
precisely what cannot be had, some mutual friend, 
with gifts of reconciliation, like those by which, as 
Macaulay so charmingly describes, Gilbert Burnet 

Thornfield Hall. 251 

removed the misunderstanding that alienated William 
of Orange from Mary. 

From Gateshead Hall Jane was sent to Lowood 
School. Enough, and not more than enough, is told 
of her misfortunes and fortunes, the injustice she met 
with from Mr. Brocklehurst, and the justice done her 
by Miss Temple ; and pathetic and beautiful details 
are given of her friendship with Helen Burns. Thus 
prepared, we follow her with stimulated attention 
when, having plucked up resolution to advertise for 
a situation, she steps out a highly unprotected 
female, aged eighteen, of plain face, tiny figure, 
strong will, good head, and ver} 7 " limited experience 
into the great world. The situation which her 
advertisement has found for her is that of governess 
to Adele Varens, the ward of Edward Fairfax Ro- 
chester, Esq., of Thornfield Hall, near Millcote, in 
a nameless county, which we may identify as York- 
shire. Thornfield Hall was a three-storied house, 
with picturesque battlements a-top ; a rather vener- 
able mansion, but not rising to the dignity of a 
nobleman's seat. "Its grey front stood out well 
from the background of a rookery, whose cawing 
tenants were now " when Jane looked at them on 
the morning after her arrival " on the wing. They 
flew over the lawn and grounds to alight in a great 
meadow, from which these were separated by a sunk 
fence, and where an array of mighty old thorn trees 
strong, knotty, and broad as oaks at once ex- 
plained the etymology of the mansion's designation. 

252 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

Farther off were hills ; not so lofty as those round 
Lowood, nor so craggy, nor so like barriers of sepa- 
ration from the living world ; but yet quiet and lonely 
hills enough, and seeming to embrace Thornfield with 
a seclusion I had not expected to find existent so near 
the stirring locality of Millcote." 

There is one point in the interior arrangements of 
Thornfield Hall, as described by Charlotte Bronte, 
which, though unimportant otherwise, has a special 
interest for those who like to detect in literature the 
signs of change in social habitude and prevailing 
taste. It has often been remarked, and the remark 
seems to me just, that, within the last thirty years, 
people have become sadder. Buskin speaks some- 
where of the growing incapacity among us to be 
amused by poor jests. We require more to make 
us laugh than the mere attempt at a joke which 
furnishes pretext enough to a happy schoolboy for 
breaking into a guffaw, or to a healthy milkmaid 
for showing her white teeth. Punch does not make 
us laugh now as Punch used to make people laugh a 
quarter of a century ago. Leech's faces were always 
glad, unless marked with vexation about some obvious 
disaster ; Du Maurier's are invariably sad, especially 
those of his women, except when they are vulgar or 
ugly. The change is discernible also in the rooms 
we inhabit. Thirty years ago, the ideal parlour or 
drawing-room of the middle-class Englishman was 
one in which the colours were harmoniously bright. 
In its tones of colour he liked it to approach, as 

Furniture Forty Years Ago. 253 

nearly as possible, to an apple blossom painted by 
old William Hunt. Brightness in furniture is now 
thought by many to betray vulgarity ; it is almost 
as bad form as a loud laugh ; the olive greens, the 
sober greys, the deep-toned reds, in which Mr. 
Morris has taught us to find a melancholy satis- 
faction, suggest, however beautiful they may be, a 
more sombre ideal of domestic felicity. It is 
curiously interesting, in connection with this change 
of feeling, that Emily and Charlotte Bronte, both of 
them what one would call grave and earnest rather 
than sprightly women, have given us descriptions of 
rooms, evidently intended by them to be delightful, 
in which the apple-blossom ideal is realised, and that 
Charlotte, when her taste presided over the furnishing 
of a room in Haworth Kectory, was true to the ideal 
presented in her writings. 

When Heathcliff and Cathy look through the 
window into the domestic heaven of Thrushcross 
Grange, what they see is thus enthusiastically de- 
scribed by the boy : " Ah ! it was beautiful a 
splendid place carpeted with crimson, and crimson- 
covered chairs and tables, and a pure white ceiling 
bordered by gold, a shower of glass-drops hanging 
in silver chains from the centre, and shimmering 
with little soft tapers." When Mrs. Fairfax permits 
Jane Eyre to look into the drawing-room of Thorn- 
field Hall, what meets her delighted gaze is thus 
described by the governess: "I thought I caught 
a glimpse of a fairy palace, so bright to my novice 

254 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

eyes appeared the view beyond. Yet it was merely 
a very pretty drawing-room, and within it a boudoir* 
both spread with white carpets, on which seemed laid 
brilliant garlands of flowers ; both ceiled with snowy 
mouldings of white grapes and vine-leaves, beneath 
which glowed in rich contrast crimson couches and 
ottomans ; while the ornaments on the pale Parian 
mantelpiece were of sparkling Bohemian glass ruby- 
red, and between the windows large mirrors repeated 
the general blending of snow and fire." " The par- 
lour," writes a visitor to Haworth Parsonage when 
Charlotte was its mistress, "has been evidently re- 
furnished within the last few years, since Miss 
Bronte's success has enabled her to have a little 
more money to spend. The prevailing colour of 
the room is crimson," harmoniously blended, we 
need not doubt, though this deponent saith not, 
with white and gold. For my own part, though I 
unaffectedly enjoy Mr. Morris's best colours, I agree 
with the simple, cheerful people of the early Victorian 
era, in thinking that the pleasantest of all family 
sitting-rooms, especially in the country, is one in 
which the tone of colour is a delicate harmony of 
crimson, white, and gold. 

We shall not accompany Jane in her tour of dis- 
covery, with Mrs. Fairfax for guide, from room to 
room and story to story, in Thornneld Hall, but 
the description of the landscape which she saw when 
she emerged, through a trap-door, upon the roof, is too 
characteristic of Charlotte Bronte to be omitted : 

Grace Poole. 255 

" I was now on a level with the crow colony, and 
could see into their nests. Leaning over the battle- 
ments and looking far down, I surveyed the grounds 
laid out like a map : the bright and velvet lawn closely 
girdling the grey base of the mansion ; the field, wide 
as a park, dotted with its ancient timber ; the wood, 
dun and sere, divided by a path visibly overgrown, 
greener with moss than the trees were with foliage ; 
the church at the gates, the road, the tranquil hills, 
all reposing in the autumn day's sun ; the horizon 
bounded by a propitious sky, azure, marbled with 
pearly white. No feature in the scene was extra- 
ordinary, but all was pleasing." 

We are bound also to take note of the first intro- 
duction of that mystery which plays so important a 
part in the machinery of Jane Eyre. The governess 
had stepped in again, after looking from the roof; Mrs. 
Fairfax stayed behind for a moment to fasten the trap- 
door ; and Jane was alone in the passage leading from 
the garret staircase. This passage, so near the roof of 
the house, was " narrow, low, and dim, with only one 
little window at the far end, and looking, with its two 
rows of small black doors all shut, like a corridor, in 
some Bluebeard's castle." " While I paced softly on," 
proceeds Jane, " the last sound I expected to hear in 
so still a region, a laugh, struck my ear. It was a 
curious laugh, distinct, formal, mirthless. I stopped ; 
the sound ceased, only for an instant ; it began again, 
louder, for at first, though distinct, it was very low. 
It passed off in a clamorous peal that seemed to wake 

256 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

an echo in every lonely chamber, though it originated 
but in one, and I could have pointed out the door 
whence the accents issued. * Mrs. Fairfax ! ' I called 
out, for I now heard her descending the great stairs, 
' did you hear that loud laugh ? Who is it ? ' ' Some 
of the servants, very likely,' she answered ; ' perhaps 
Grace Poole.' 'Did you hear it?' I again inquired. 
' Yes, plainly ; I often hear her ; she sews in one of 
these rooms.' The laugh was repeated in its low, 
syllabic tone, and terminated in an odd murmur. 
' Grace ! ' exclaimed Mrs. Fairfax. I really did not 
expect any Grace to answer; for the laugh was as 
tragic, as preternatural a laugh as any I ever heard ; 
and, but that it was high noon, and that no circum- 
stance of ghostliness accompanied the curious cachin- 
nation, but that neither scene nor season favoured 
fear, I should have been superstitiously afraid. How- 
ever, the event showed me I was a fool for entertain- 
ing a sense even of surprise. The door nearest me 
opened, and a servant came out, a woman of between 
thirty and forty ; a set, square-made figure, red-haired, 
and with a hard, plain face: any apparition less 
romantic or less ghostly could scarcely be conceived. 
' Too much noise, Grace,' said Mrs. Fairfax. ' Ke- 
rnember directions ! ' Grace curtsied silently and 
went in." 

It is only in the sequel that we appreciate the ad- 
mirable artfulness of this. Grace Poole, the contra- 
dictory creature who is utterly wooden when we get a 
full sight of her, and becomes so mysteriously and 

Grace Poole. 257 

eerily mirthful whenever the door in the long, low, 
remote passage closes behind her, is a singularly in- 
genious invention. 

Jane, too active-minded to find full occupation for 
her faculties with her one pupil and Mrs. Fairfax, 
frequently walked in meditative mood in the weird 
corridor. "When thus alone," she says, "I not un- 
frequently heard Grace Poole's laugh : the same peal, 
the same low, slow ha ! ha ! which, when first heard, 
had thrilled me : I heard, too, her eccentric murmurs, 
stranger than her laugh. Sometimes I saw her : she 
would come out of her room with a basin, or a plate, 
or a tray in her hand, go down to the kitchen and 
shortly return, generally (oh, romantic reader, forgive 
me for telling the plain truth !) bearing a pot of porter." 
Was ever mystery more tantalising more provokingly 
unpoetical ? The reader must recollect that Jane was 
at this time a girl of eighteen, who had lived for eight 
years at Lowood school ; had she possessed more 
knowledge of the world, she might have taken a 
somewhat different view of the enigma connected 
with Grace Poole. 

In spite, however, of Adele's vivacity, Mrs. Fairfax's 
judicious observations, and Grace Poole's eccentric 
merriment, Jane had begun to feel existence too tran- 
quil at Thornfield, when a new chapter opened in her 
history by the occurrence of an event. Winter had 
succeeded autumn, and the ground was hard, the air 
keen, with January frost. Tired of sitting in the 
library, Jane offered to carry a letter for Mrs. Fairfax 


258 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

to the village of Hay, two miles off. The bracing 
influence of the sharp Yorkshire air seems to be upon 
us as we read the description of her walk. 

The ground was hard, the air was still, my road was lonely. I 
walked fast till I got warm, and then I walked slowly to enjoy and 
analyse the species of pleasure brooding for me in the hour and 
situation. It was three o'clock ; the church bell tolled as I passed 
under the belfry: the charm of the hour lay in its approaching 
dimness, in the low-gliding and pale-beaming sun. I was a mile 
from Thornfield, in a lane noted for wild roses in summer, for nuts 
and blackberries in autumn, and even now possessing a few coral 
treasures in hips and haws, but whose best winter delight lay in its 
utter solitude and leafless repose. If a breath of air stirred, it made 
no sound here; for there was not a holly, not an evergreen to 
rustle, and the stripped hawthorn and hazel bushes were as still as 
the white, worn stones which causewayed the middle of the path. 
Far and wide, on each side, there were only fields, where no cattle 
now browsed ; and the little brown birds, which stirred occasionally 
in the hedge, looked like single russet leaves that had forgotten to 

This lane inclined up-hill all the way to Hay : having reached 
the middle, I sat down on a stile which led thence into a field. 
Gathering my mantle about me, and sheltering my hands in my 
muff, I did not feel the cold, though it froze keenly; as was 
attested by a sheet of ice covering the causeway, where a little 
brooklet, now congealed, had overflowed after a rapid thaw some 
days since. From my seat I could look down on Thornfield: the 
grey and battlemented hall was the principal object in the vale 
below me; its woods and dark rookeiy rose against the west. I 
lingered till the sun went down amongst the trees, and sank 
crimson and clear behind them. I then turned eastward. 

On the hill-top above me sat the rising moon; pale yet as a 
cloud, but brightening momently: she looked over Hay, which, 
half lost in trees, sent up a blue smoke from its few chimneys ; it 
was yet a mile distant, but in the absolute hush I could hear 
plainly its thin murmurs of life. My ear, too, felt the flow of 
currents ; in what dales and depths I could not tell : but there were 
many hills beyond Hay, and doubtless many becks threading their 
passes. That evening calm betrayed alike the tinkle of the nearest 
streams, the sough of the most remote. 

Winter Evening. 259 

This is very simple, yet quite masterly, writing. It 
is like the best parts of Cowper's Task with some- 
thing that reminds you of the minute elaboration of 
Crabbe or John Clare. There is a crispness in the 
touch suggestive of frost, when frost is seasonable and 
not too severe. What a nice precision and judicious 
parsimony of descriptive features none of the too- 
much-ness, the too florid exuberance, of vulgar word- 
painting ! The hedge has its " coral treasures," in hip 
and haw, though the rose leaves are gone, and the 
little brown birds are among the branches, "like 
single russet leaves ! " though the songs of summer 
are hushed. And how fine and deep is that poetry of 
the hill streams ! " My ear felt the flow of currents." 
The poet-woman was with the becks as they stole 
quietly on, humming their own low, sweet moorland 
tune, among the dales. 

The frost and the silence having brought our nerves 
into exquisite tension, we are in a condition to be 
not unpleasantly startled by sound. " A rude noise 
broke on these fine ripplings and whisperings, at once 
so far away and so clear ; a positive tramp, tramp ; 
a metallic clatter, which effaced the soft wave- 
wanderings ; as, in a picture, the solid mass of a 
crag, or the rough boles of a great oak, drawn in 
dark and strong on the. foreground, efface the aerial 
distance of azure hill, sunny horizon, and blended 
clouds, where tint melts into tint." 

A great dog, " a lion-like creature with long hair 
and a huge head," went careering along; a horse and 


260 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

rider passed; and Jane took a few steps onward 
towards Hay : but a noise caused her to look back, and 
she saw that horse and man were down on the ice of 
the causeway. The dog, barking loudly as dogs will 
do when circumstances suddenly overtax their canine 
sagacity, ran instinctively towards Jane as if to 
summon her assistance. She walked back to the 
traveller, who was extricating himself from his 
hazardous situation, and offered help. He limped to 
the stile on which she had been seated a minute 
before, and she had time to survey him. " His figure 
was enveloped in a riding cloak, fur-collared, and 
steel-clasped ; its details were not apparent, but 1 
traced the general points of middle height, and con- 
siderable breadth of chest. He had a dark face, with 
stern features and a heavy brow ; his eyes and 
gathered eyebrows looked ireful and thwarted just 
now ; he was past youth, but had not reached middle 
age ; perhaps he might be thirty-five." After some 
little colloquy, he accepted Jane's aid to the extent of 
leaning on her shoulder, as he halted on his sprained 
foot towards his horse ; he then rode off, and she went 
on her way. " The incident," she writes, " had 
occurred, and was gone for me ; it was an incident of 
no moment, no romance, no interest in a sense ; yet 
it marked with change one single hour of a mono- 
tonous life. My help had been needed and claimed ; 
I had given it ; I was pleased to have done something ; 
trivial, transitory though the deed was, it was yet an 
active thing, and I was weary of an existence all 

Jane meets Rochester. 261 

passive. The new face, too, was like a new picture 
introduced to the gallery of memory ; and it was 
dissimilar to all the others hanging there : firstly, 
because it was masculine ; and, secondly, because it 
was dark, strong, and stern." On returning to 
Thornfield Hall, she found that the rider was her 
employer, Mr. Rochester. 



FEW characters, if any, in modern fiction, have been 
so much discussed as that of the hero of Jane Eyre. 
My own estimate of Edward Fairfax Rochester has 
long heen formed, but it will be more satisfactory to 
my readers that the facts on which a just estimate 
must be based should be fairly set before them than that 
I should begin with a statement of my own opinion. 

On the evening of the day after his arrival at 
Thornfield, Kochester conversed at some length with 
Jane. We shall take a few words from their colloquy. 
" * You have been resident in my house three 

months?' * Yes, sir.' 'And you came from ?' 

' From Lowood school in shire/ ' Ah ! a charit- 
able concern. How long were you there ? ' ' Eight 
years.' ' Eight years ! you must be tenacious of life. 
I thought half the time in such a place would have 
done up any constitution ! No wonder you have 
rather the look of another world. I marvelled where 

Jane and Rochester. 263 

you had got that sort of face. When you ca/me on me 
in Hay Lane last night, I thought unaccountably of 
fairy tales, and had half a mind to demand whether 
you had bewitched my horse : I am not sure yet. 
Who are your parents ? ' 'I have none.' ' Nor ever 
had, I suppose ; do you remember them? ' * No.' " 

I put into italics that remark of Eochester's which 
must, I think, have grated on the ear, or rather on 
the heart, of the reader. It is entirely decisive as to 
the fact that Kochester had not the intuitions of a 
gentleman. "A charitable concern! " he says. The 
girl had just told him she had been trained in it. 
Noah Claypole called Oliver Twist " Vurkus." 
Eochester did not, like Claypole, wish to wound the 
person he addressed ; but if he had not been charac- 
terised by that defect of sensibility which Euskin 
rightly pronounces the infallible note of vulgarity, he 
would instinctively and instantaneously have placed 
his recollection of the nature of the Lowood founda- 
tion under the strictest guard of silence, and hastened 
on without letting Jane detect, even by a glance of his 
eye, what he had been thinking of. There was a lack 
of delicacy in the blunt cross-questioning about Jane's 
parentage, but this was a venial offence compared 
with the other. In his second conversation with Jane, 
Eochester took occasion, apropos of his disliking the 
prattle of children, to inform her that he was an " old 
bachelor." The sequel proves that this was a lie, 
not a quite unqualified lie, but a statement which, in 
any court of justice, would be characterised as the real 

264 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

thing. Kather unmanageable items these, to reconcile 
with the character of a hero, a piece of rudeness of 
which no one could be guilty who had the sympathetic 
nerve of a gentleman, and a fib ! 

We shall return to the character of Eochester, but 
I must here make him stand aside for a moment, in 
order that the attention of the reader may be given to 
a passage, occurring in connection with one of these 
early conversations between Jane and her master, 
which is specially illustrative of Charlotte Bronte's 
imaginative genius. I refer to the description of three 
of Jane's water-colour pictures, as they were placed 
before the critical eye of Eochester. 

The first represented clouds low and livid, rolling over a swollen 
sea ; all the distance was in eclipse ; so, too, was the foreground ; 
or, rather, the nearest billows, for there was no land. One gleam 
of light lifted into relief a half -submerged mast, on which sat a 
cormorant, dark and large, with wings flecked with foam : its beak 
held a gold bracelet, set with gems, that I had touched with as 
brilliant tints as my palette could yield, and as glittering dis- 
tinctness as my pencil could impart. Sinking below the bird and 
mast, a drowned corpse glanced through the green water ; a fair 
arm was the only limb clearly visible, whence the bracelet had 
been washed or torn. 

The second picture contained for foreground only the dim peak 
of a hill, with grass and some leaves slanting as if by a breeze. 
Beyond and above spread an expanse of sky, dark blue as at 
twilight ; rising into the sky was a woman's shape to the bust, 
portrayed in tints as dusk and soft as I could combine. The dim 
forehead was crowned with a star ; the lineaments below were 
seen as through the suffusion of vapour ; the eyes shone dark and 
wild ; the hair streamed shadowy, like a beamless cloud torn by 
storm or by electric travail. On the neck lay a pale reflection like 
moonlight ; the same faint lustre touched the train of thin clouds 
from which rose and bowed this vision of the Evening Star. 

Jane's Pictures. 265 

The third showed the pinnacle of an iceberg piercing a polar 
winter sky : a muster of northern lights reared their dim lances, 
close serried, along the horizon. Throwing these into distance, 
rose, in the foreground, a head a colossal head, inclined towards 
the iceberg, and resting against it. Two thin hands, joined under 
the forehead, and supporting it, drew up before the lower features 
a sable veil ; a brow quite bloodless, white as bone, and an eye 
hollow and fixed, blank of meaning but for the glassiness of 
despair, alone were visible. Above the temples, amidst wreathed 
turban folds of black drapery, vague in its character and consis- 
tency as cloud, gleamed a ring of white flame, gemmed with 
sparkles of a more lurid tinge. This pale crescent was ' The 
likeness of a Kingly Crown ; ' what it diademed was ' the shape 
which shape had none.' " 

Chapters books, I daresay have been written to dis- 
cuss and define the nature^of imagination ; but the main 
and central application of the term is that which rests 
upon the idea of eyesight. Imagination is the soul's 
eye. In its highest power, however, it is creative in a 
sense in which the bodily eye, except for diseased 
persons or fantastic philosophers, never is. The vision 
of the external world rolls into the bodily eye, un- 
bidden ; not at all created, and very slightly modified, 
by the eye that sees ; but the imagination, working, 
indeed, with materials furnished in their originals by 
perception, bodies out visions which have no counter- 
part in the external world. These are produced by the 
poet and the artist, and demand a higher form of 
mental operation than any that is engaged in by the man 
of science. The imaginative power displayed in in vent- 
ing and describing Jane's pictures gives Charlotte Bronte 
a better title to the name of poet than anything in her 
verses. The passage seems to me to transcend anything 

266 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

that has been done, either in verse or prose, by George 
Eliot. Only Mrs. Browning, among Englishwomen of 
literary genius, has surpassed these word-paintings. 

Perhaps still finer illustration of the power in 
question than is afforded by the three pictures which 
Jane Eyre placed before Kochester, may be found in 
some passages occurring in Shirley. They are brief, 
and admit of being easily separated from the context. 
It will be unnecessary to quote more than two. 
The first appears in a conversation between Shirley 
Keeldar, the heroine of the novel, and her friend 
Caroline Heist one, on the subject of a voyage which 
they propose taking to the Arctic regions. 

"I suppose you expect to see mermaids, Shirley?" "One of 
them at any rate. I do not bargain for less ; and she is to appear 
in some such fashion as this. I am to be walking by myself on 
deck, rather late of an August evening, watching and being 
watched by a full harvest-moon ; something is to rise white on the 
surface of the sea, over which that moon mounts silent, and hangs 
glorious. The object glitters and sinks. It rises again. I think I 
hear it cry with an articulate voice : I call you up from the cabin : 
I show you an image, fair as alabaster, emerging from the dim 
wave. We both see the long hair, the lifted and foam-white arm, 
the oval mirror brilliant as a star. It glides nearer ; a human face 
is plainly visible; a face in the style of yours, whose straight, 
pure (excuse the word, it is appropriate) whose straight, pure 
lineaments paleness does not disfigure. It looks at us, but not 
with your eyes. I see a preternatural lure in its wily glance : it 
beckons. Were we men we should spring at the sign, the cold 
billow would be dared for the sake of the colder enchantress 
being women, we stand safe, though not dreadless. She compre- 
hends our unmoved gaze ; she feels herself powerless ; anger 
crosses her front; she cannot charm, but she will appal us; she 
rises high, and glides all revealed, on the dark wave-ridge. 
Temptress-terror ! monstrous likeness of ourselves ! Are you not 
glad, Caroline, when at last, and with a wild shriek, she]]dives ? " 

Charlotte Bronte's Imagination. 267 

The other passage is suggested by the contraband 
reading of the schoolboy, Martin Yorke, who likes 
better to con fairy tales when the lingering light of 
sunset blends with the first beams of the moon, than 
to explore the mysteries of Latin grammar. The few 
lines descriptive of the vision of the fairy queen are 
unimportant, but we may as well take them for what 
Charlotte Bronte doubtless intended them to be, a 
kind of introduction to the more original bit of 
imaginative work that succeeds. 

He reads : he is led into a solitary mountain region ; all round 
him is rude and desolate, shapeless, and almost colourless. He 
hears bells tinkle on the wind ; forth-riding from the formless 
forms of the mist, dawns on him the brightest vision a green- 
robed lady, on a snow-white palfrey ; he sees her dress, her gems> 
and her steed ; she arrests him with some mysterious question ; he 
is spell-bound, and must follow her into Fairyland. 

A second legend bears him to the sea-shore ; there tumbles in a 
strong tide, boiling at the base of dizzy cliffs ; it rains and blows. 
A reef of rocks, black and rough, stretches far into the sea; all 
along, and among, and above these crags, dash and flash, sweep 
and leap, swells, wreaths, drifts of snowy spray. Some lone 
wanderer is out on these rocks, treading, with cautious step, the 
wet, wild sea-weed; glancing down into hollows where the brine 
lies fathom-deep and emerald-clear, and seeing there wilder, and 
stranger, and huger vegetation than is found on land, with treasure 
of shells some green, some purple, some pearly clustered in the 
curls of the snaky plants. He hears a cry. Looking up, and 
forward, he sees, at the bleak point of the reef, a tall, pale thing 
shaped like man, but made of spray transparent, tremulous, 
awful : it stands not alone ; they are all human figures that wanton 
in the rocks a crowd of foam-women a band of white, evanes- 
cent Nereides. 

That Mermaid is, so far as I know, an entirely 
original conception. Despite the presence of the 
mirror, she is not in the least like the lady of 

268 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

marine tradition who combs her locks with a golden 
comb, as Heine makes his witch of the Loreley do ; 
nor has she any resemblance to the Sirens of the old 
Sicilian shore. She is born of the imagination 
of Charlotte Bronte, and is invested with a new 
and strange mystery as a temptress of women ; not 
impassioned, but wily and cold, incarnating the 
treachery, and the wild gleaming perilous beauty, 
and the cruel power, of the Northern sea. How 
finely in keeping is it that such a creature should 
appear when the pale moon is rising into the steely 
sky, and the cold glitter of its beam lends a more 
witching whiteness to arm and bosom as she "glares 
appalling from the ridge of the wave! " 

The description, in the second passage, of the 
broken sea on a craggy shore beneath high cliffs, 
with interposed hollows, rock-protected, where the 
salt water lies in crystalline clearness, shows how 
carefully Charlotte Bronte had noted the scenery of 
the English seashore on her visits to Scarborough 
and Filey ; but in the personification of the filmy 
foam-wreaths, wavering in the wind, as evanescent 
Nereides, there is a far more subtle and plastic 
power than that of mere observation, a power essen- 
tially identical with that of the poet and the creative 
artist. And while the imagination, in its plastic, 
form-giving energy, calls into visible shape the Mer- 
maid or the Nereid, the imagination, in its reveal- 
ing, penetrating, and sympathetic energy, enables us 
to realise how, in a distant age, the legend of the 

Rochester. 269 

Mermaid or the Nereid arose. Charlotte Bronte, 
with her quick eye and kindling sympathy, as she 
looked at the wind-shaken foam beneath Yorkshire 
cliffs, felt as the early Greek felt when he first saw, 
in the wavering spray of the .ZEgean, the white 
draperies of the daughters of Nereus. Thus treated, 
old legends are never dead ; the fossil tradition is 
re-inspired with life, and we know how our remote 
ancestors first learned to believe in it. And now let 
us return to Edward Fairfax Rochester. 

He was, we found, an imperfect character, his im- 
perfection including a vulgar callousness of feeling 
and a disregard of truth. The author, however, is 
careful to inform us that his imperfection was not 
without excuse. He had suffered wrong. His elder 
brother had prejudiced his father against him. His 
father, anxious that he should be rich , had co-operated 
with his brother in placing him in " what he con- 
sidered a painful position, for the sake of making 
his fortune." The nature of the injury is not, at 
this stage, disclosed ; but " his spirit could not 
brook what he had to suffer." His misfortune had 
caused him to lead " an unsettled kind of life," and 
since the death of his brother, when he became 
master of Thornfield, he had hardly stayed at the 
place for a fortnight together. In his wanderings 
he had acquired the habit of brooding on his sorrows, 
and his conversation with Jane was strongly tinged 
with egotism. " ' Criticise me,' he said to her once ; 
* does my forehead not please you ? ' He lifted up the 

270 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

sable waves of hair which lay horizontally over his 
brow, and showed a solid enough mass of intellectual 
organs, but an abrupt deficiency where the suave sign 
of benevolence should have risen. ' Now, ma'am, am 
I a fool ? ' ' Far from it, sir. You would, perhaps, 
think me rude if I inquired in return whether you are 
a philanthropist?' ' No, he is not a "general philan- 
thropist." He does not like children or old women ; 
but "I bear," he says, "a conscience," and "I once 
had a kind of rude tenderness of heart." 

This looks much like the kind of man who, by the 
lords of creation, wherever they do congregate in 
college hall, or club dining-room is unanimously 
voted a bore and prig. There is a fine stagy sad- 
ness about him, and he looks not ill. " He rose from 
his chair, and stood, leaning his arm on the marble 
mantelpiece. In that attitude his shape was seen 
plainly, as well as his face ; his unusual breadth of chest 
disproportionate almost to his length of limb. I am 
sure most people would have thought him an ugly man ; 
yet there was so much unconscious pride in his port, 
so much ease in his demeanour, such a look of com- 
plete indifference to his own external appearance, so 
haughty a reliance on the power of other qualities, 
intrinsic or adventitious, to atone for the lack of mere 
personal attractiveness, that, in looking at him, one 
inevitably shared the indifference, and, even in a 
blind, imperfect sense, put faith in the confidence." 

If men would call this a strutting coxcomb, there 
are few women who would not be touched by his 

Rochester Describes Himself. 271 

melancholy charm. The reader has probably been 
already reminded of the Byronic hero the Giaour, 
the Corsair, the Childe, Lara, Manfred who awoke 
such a furore of sympathetic admiration two or three 
generations back. Byron, at bottom one of the 
shrewdest men of the world, appreciated the theatri- 
cality of his own stock character, and laughed ironi- 
cally when a young American hero-worshipper, 
Coolidge by name, betrayed symptoms of disappoint- 
ment at not finding his lordship attired in wolfskin 
breeches and answering in fierce monosyllables, on the 
model of his typical hero. When Moore, however, 
sketched the character in its generic traits, Byron did 
not half like his friend's wit. 

The sallow, sublime, kind of Werter-faced man, 
With moustachios that gave, what we read of so oft, 
The dear Corsair-expression, half-savage, half soft. 

Rochester, proceeding with his autobiographical 
confidences to Jane, informs her that he is not a 
villain, but " a trite, common-place sinner, hackneyed 
in all the poor, petty dissipations with which the rich 
and worthless try to put on life." He detects in her, 
he says, a capacity of listening to him, not with male- 
volent scorn, but with "innate sympathy," and he 
opens his heart to her in return. " ' You would say, 
I should have been superior to circumstances ; so I 
should ; but you see I was not. When fate wronged 
me, I had not the wisdom to remain cool. I turned 
desperate ; then I degenerated. . . . Dread 
remorse when you are tempted to err, Miss Eyre. 
Remorse is the poison of life.' ' She suggests that 

272 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

repentance is its cure ; but he will not listen to so 
commonplace a prescription. He has one of his own. 
A notion, he says, has flitted across his brain. "'I 
believe it was an inspiration rather than a temptation : 
it was very genial, very soothing I know that. Here 
it comes again. It is no devil, I assure you ; or, if it 
be, it has put on the robes of an angel of light. I 
think I must admit so fair a guest when it asks 
entrance to my heart.' ' Jane warns him that it may 
be an angel of darkness, but he refuses to believe her. 
" ' Not at all, ' he exclaims ; ' it bears the most 
gracious message in the world : for the rest, you are 
not my conscience-keeper, so don't make yourself un- 
easy. Here, come in, bonny wanderer ! ' He said this 
as if he spoke to a vision, viewless to any eye but his 
own; then, folding his arms, which he had half 
extended, on his chest, he seemed to enclose in their 
embrace the invisible being. ' Now,' he continued, 
again addressing me, ' I have received the pilgrim a 
disguised deity, as I verily believe. Already it has 
done me good : my heart was a sort of charnel ; it will 
now be a shrine.' " 

The whisper of hope and healing from heaven, or 
the muttered temptation from hell for it is not on 
the surface discernible which of these it may be 
which [Rochester expected to turn his heart from a 
charnel into a shrine, was, in more prosaic language, 
the suggestion that he should marry Jane. What 
stands in the way he will not tell her ; but readers 
doubtless suspect that it is something connected with 

The Mystery. 273 

Grace Poole. A succession of incidents, devised and 
described with an ingenuity, a felicity, an intensity, 
unsurpassed in the whole range of fictitious literature, 
perplexes us with a sense of the mystery. One night 
Jane, startled from sleep, hears close to her room door 
the laugh which had surprised her in the corridor, 
finds presently that the curtains and bed-clothes of 
Kochester's bed had been set on fire, and barely 
succeeds in extinguishing the flames and saving his 
life. He refers her to Grace Poole as the source of 
the mischief. On another nighfc the silence is rent by 
a terrific shriek ; a visitor sleeping on the same story 
with Grace Poole has been murderously attacked ; and 
Jane holds the basin while Rochester sponges away 
the blood and restores the rescued victim to conscious- 
ness. This operation is performed in a room into 
which another room opens, and from this inner room 
Jane hears " a snarling, snatching sound, almost like 
a dog quarrelling." It need scarcely be said that she 
was perplexed. " What crime," she speculated, "was 
this, that lived incarnate in this sequestered mansion, 
and could neither be expelled nor subdued by the 
owner ? What mystery that broke out, now in fire 
and now in blood, at the deadest hour of night? 
What creature was it, that, masked in an ordinary 
woman's face and shape, uttered the voice, now of a 
mocking demon, and anon of a carrion-seeking bird of 
prey?" Once more this time, also, in the dead of 
night Jane Eyre was awakened by the presence of 
the mystery. In the description of what followed, 


274 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

taken in connection with the subsequent explanation 
of it, Charlotte Bronte has succeeded in creating the 
emotion of terror as effectually as Edgar Poe ever did 
in those weird and awful tales in which he concen- 
trated the whole force of his genius upon the produc- 
tion of that particular emotion. Jane details the 
circumstances to Rochester, most imaginatively lead- 
ing up to the climax of horror by an account of the 
troubled dreams which had been previously vexing 
her sleep. I include in my quotation the closing 
sentences of this " preface." 

" I heard the gallop of a horse at a distance on the road ; I was 
sure it was you ; and you were departing for many years, and for 
a distant country. I climbed the thin wall with frantic, perilous 
haste, eager to catch one glimpse of you from the top ; the stones 
rolled from under my feet, the ivy branches I grasped gave way, 
the child clung round my neck in terror, and almost strangled me ; 
at last I gained the summit. I saw you like a speck on a white 
track, lessening every moment. The blast blew so strong, I could 
not stand. I sat down on the narrow ledge ; I hushed the scared 
infant in my lap ; you turned an angle of the road ; I bent forward 
to take a last look ; the wall crumbled ; I was shaken ; the child 
rolled from my knee, I lost my balance, fell, and woke." 

" Now, Jane, that is all." " All the preface, sir ; the tale is yet 
to come. On waking, a gleam dazzled my eyes ; I thought oh, 
it is daylight ! But I was mistaken ; it was only candle-light ; 
Sophie, I supposed, had come in. There was a light on the 
dressing-table, and the door of the closet, where, before going to 
bed, I had hung my wedding dress and veil, stood open ; I heard a 
rustling there. I asked, ' Sophie, what are you doing ? ' No one 
answered ; but a form emerged from the closet ; it took the light, 
held it aloft, and surveyed the garments pendent from the port- 
manteau.* ' Sophie ! Sophie ! ' I again cried, and still it was silent. 
I had risen up in bed, I bent forwards : first, surprise, then 

* I quote from the illustrated edition of 1875. It is not easy to 
see how garments could be pendent from a portmanteau. 

The Mystery. 275 

bewilderment, came over me, and then my blood crept cold 
through my veins. Mr. Rochester, this was not Sophie, it was 
not Leah, it was not Mrs. Fairfax ; it was not no, I was sure of 
it, and am still it was not even that strange woman, Grace 
Poole." "It must have been one of them," interrupted my 
master. " No, sir, I solemnly assure you to the contrary. The 
shape standing before me had never crossed nay eyes within the 
precincts of Thornfield Hall before ; the height, the contour, were 
new to me." "Describe it, Jane." "It seemed, sir, a woman, 
tall and large, with thick and dark hair hanging long down her 
back. I know not what dress she had on : it was white and 
straight ; but whether gown, sheet, or shroud, I cannot tell." 
" Did you see her face ? " " Not at first. But presently she took 
my veil from its place ; she held it up, gazed at it long, and then 
she threw it over her own head, and turned to the mirror. At that 
moment I saw the reflection of the visage and features quite 
distinctly in the dark oblong glass." _ " And how were they ? " 
" Fearful and ghastly to me oh, sir, I never saw a face like it. 
It was a discoloured face it was a savage face. I wish I could 
forget the roll of the red eyes and the fearful blackened inflation of 
the lineaments." " Ghosts are usually pale, Jane." " This, sir, 
was purple ; the lips were swelled and dark ; the brow furrowed ; 
the black eyebrows widely raised over the bloodshot eyes ! Shall 
I tell you of what it reminded me ? " " You may." " Of the foul 
German spectre the Vampire." "Ah! What did it do?" 
" Sir, it removed my veil from its gaunt head, rent it in two parts, 
and flinging both on the floor, trampled on them." " After- 
wards ? " "It drew aside the window- curtain and looked out ; 
perhaps it saw dawn approaching, for, taking the candle, it 
retreated to the door. Just at my bedside the figure stopped ; the 
fiery eye glared upon me she thrust up her candle close to my 
face, and extinguished it under my eyes. I was aware her lurid 
visage flamed over mine, and I lost consciousness : for the second 
time in my life only the second time I became insensible from 

The peculiar and penetrating horror of this appa- 
rition is derived from the subsequent discovery that it 
was no ghost that appeared to Jane, but a fierce 
and dangerous maniac. The spectral woman was, of 


276 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

course, Eochester's wife, and he led Jane to the altar 
without correcting his early statement to her that he 
was a bachelor. He had been married to his maniac 
wife when he was very young, through the influence 
of a mercenary father and a heartless brother. How 
far was he justifiable in attempting to marry again 
while she was alive ? In order to do Charlotte Bronte 
justice, and to obviate all doubt that we have the 
character of Rochester fully and favourably presented 
to us, we shall take his plea from his own lips, as he 
stated it to Jane one lovely morning in the garden, 
when the air was fragrant with sweet-brier, and 
bright with apple-blossom. 

" Now, my little friend, while the sun drinks the dew while all 
the flowers in this old garden awake and expand, and the birds 
fetch their young ones' breakfast out of the cornfield, and the early 
bees do their first spell of work I'll put a case to you, which you 
must endeavour to suppose your own ; but first, look at me, and 
tell me you are at ease, and not fearing that I err in detaining 
you, or that you err in staying." "No, sir; I am content." 
" Well, then, Jane, call to your aid your fancy; suppose you were 
no longer a girl, well reared and disciplined, but a wild boy, 
indulged from childhood upwards; imagine yourself in a remote 
foreign land ; conceive that you there commit a capital error, no 
matter of what nature or from what motives, but one whose con- 
sequences must follow you through life and taint all your existence. 
Mind, I don't say a crime ; I am not speaking of shedding of blood 
or any other guilty act, which might make the perpetrators amen- 
able to the law : my word is error. The results of what you have 
done become in time to you utterly insupportable; you take 
measures to obtain relief ; unusual measures, but neither unlawful 
nor culpable. Still you are miserable ; for hope has quitted you 
on the very confines of life ; your sun at noon darkens in an 
eclipse, which you feel will not leave it till the time of setting. 
Bitter and base associations have become the sole food of your 
memory; you wander here and there, seeking rest in exilej: 

Rochester's Plea. 277 

happiness in pleasure I mean in heartless, sensual pleasure such 
as dulls intellect and blights feeling. Heart-weary and soul- 
withered, you come home after years of voluntary banishment ; 
you make a new acquaintance how or where no matter ; you find 
in this stranger much of the good and bright qualities which you 
have sought for twenty years, and never before encountered ; and 
they are all fresh, healthy, without soil and without taint. Such 
society revives, regenerates ; you feel better days come back 
higher wishes, purer feelings; you desire to recommence your 
life, and to spend what remains to you of days in a way more 
worthy of an immortal being. To attain this end, are you justified 
in overleaping an obstacle of custom a mere conventional im- 
pediment, which neither your conscience sanctifies, nor your 
judgment approves?" 

He paused for an answer, and what was I to say ? Oh, for some 
good spirit to suggest a judicious and satisfactory response ! Vain 
aspiration ! The west wind whispered in the ivy round me ; but 
no gentle Ariel borrowed its breath as a medium of speech ; the 
birds sang in the tree-tops, but their song, however sweet, was 
inarticulate. Again Mr. Eochester propounded his query, " Is the 
wandering and sinful, but now rest-seeking and repentant, man 
justified in daring the world's opinion, in order to attach to him 
for ever this gentle, gracious, genial stranger, thereby securing his 
own peace of mind and regeneration of life ? " " Sir," I answered, 
" a wanderer's repose or a sinner's reformation should never 
depend on a fellow-creature. Men and women die ; philosophers 
falter in wisdom, and Christians in goodness. If any one you 
know has suffered and erred, let him look higher than his equals 
for strength to amend, and solace to heal." "But the instrument 
the instrument ! God, who does the work, ordains the instru- 
ment. I have myself I tell it you without parable been 
worldly, dissipated, restless man ; and I believe I have found the 

instrument for my cure in ." He paused; the birds went on 

carolling, the leaves lightly rustling. 

Shall we pronounce Rochester a true hero, or a 
theatrical scamp, or something between the two? 
The question is too important to be answered in the 
fag end of a chapter. 



force of Rochester's plea for himself might be 
JL enhanced if we in imagination accompanied 
him and Jane, and the clergyman and clerk, and Mr. 
Mason, who interrupted the marriage ceremony, from 
the altar to the room in which his maniac wife was 
confined. But this is happily not necessary. Ro- 
chester had been grievously sinned against cajoled in 
his youth into marriage with one of " a mad family, 
idiots and maniacs through three generations ; " his 
wife was a drunkard, and worse, before she became a 
raging lunatic, and nothing could be more hideously 
infra-human than her final state. He "meant," there- 
fore, to use his own words, " to be a bigamist," and he 
" entrapped," or did his best to entrap, " into a feigned 
union," a girl of eighteen, whose residence under his 
roof, in capacity of governess, gave him his oppor- 
tunity. Voila, the plain facts. 

Charlotte Bronte's Self -Defence. 279 

Rochester's plea was not universally sustained by 
the readers of Jane Eyre. To the second edition of 
the book Charlotte Bronte affixed a preface, in which 
she took to task " the timorous or carping few " who 
pronounced its tendency questionable, its morality 
doubtful. Her unfavourable critics are therein de- 
scribed as persons " in whose eyes whatever is un- 
usual is wrong ; whose ears detect in each protest 
against bigotry that parent of crime an insult to 
piety, that regent of God on earth." Bather hard 
measure to deal out to the unfavourable critics, one 
must admit. She suggests to them " certain obvious 
distinctions," reminds them of "certain simple truths." 
We are bound to bestow upon these our best atten- 
tion. The following is her statement of them : 
" Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness 
is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail 
the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the 
Pharisee is not to lift an impious hand to the crown 
of thorns. These things and deeds are diametrically 
opposed : they are as distinct as is vice from virtue. 
Men too often confound them : they should not be 
confounded ; appearance should not be mistaken for 
truth ; narrow human doctrines, that only tend to 
elate and magnify a few, should not be substituted for 
the world-redeeming creed of Christ. There is I 
repeat it a difference ; and it is a good, and not a bad 
action, to mark broadly and clearly the line of separa- 
tion between them. The world may not like to see 
these ideas dissevered, for it has been accustomed to 

280 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

blend them; finding it convenient to make external 
show pass for sterling worth to let white-washed 
walls vouch for clean shrines. It may hate him who 
dares to scrutinise and expose to rase the gilding, 
and show hase metal under it to penetrate the 
sepulchre, and reveal charnel relics ; but hate as it 
will, it is indebted to him. Ahab did not like Micaiah, 
because he never prophesied good concerning him, but 
evil; probably he liked the sycophant son of Chena- 
anah better ; yet might Ahab have escaped a bloody 
death, had he but stopped his ears to flattery, and 
opened them to faithful counsel." 

These diamond-pointed sentences afford the most 
humorously-beautiful illustration known to me in 
literature of that style of argument which is un- 
gallantly, and perhaps unjustly, called lady's logic. 
With charming coolness with winning and child- 
like naivete Charlotte Bronte begs the whole 
question, and assumes what she is bound to prove. 
No sane man, from Nova Zembla to Cape Comorin, 
from Pekin to Birmingham, could confound the things 
she distinguishes, or dispute the truths she enunciates. 
But when all these generalities have been admitted and 
put aside, the question remains, whether Rochester is 
a legitimate hero, and whether the ethical foundations 
of the novel are sound. The preliminary flourish of 
the advocate is extremely fine but she commits the 
slight mistake of not following it up by any argu- 
ment whatever of not once referring to the facts in 
evidence. We must repair her omission, remarking 

Eochester an Egoist. 281 

that the advocate must be held to plead not only her 
hero's cause, but her own. She unquestionably be- 
speaks the admiration of the reader for Rochester. 
This is on the face of the , novel. He is made 
attractive. Courage, firmness, manliness, ardour, 
talent, soldierly frankness, are his characteristics, 
and he rides his black horse Mesrour like a prince. 

Looking searchingly then into Rochester's plea, 
what better, let us ask, is he at bottom than an 
egoist ? In his selfishness he does not scruple to lie. 
He has not resolutely adjusted himself to the melan- 
choly circumstances which have darkened his life, but 
has drawn a veil over them ; and he attempts, though 
it be by criminal means, to evade the misfortune under 
which he has fallen. His own word " entrap " applies 
strictly to his conduct in relation to Jane, for if he 
intended to make of her a friend and nominal wife, he 
ought to have let her know precisely how matters 
stood, and to have obtained her consent or refusal. 
But the darkest symptom in Rochester's case is one 
which Charlotte Bronte must, I fear, be held not only 
to condone, but to enter in mitigation of his offence. I 
allude to his suggestion as to the religious elevation of 
his motives in deceiving Jane. What he says about 
receiving a heavenly visitant into his breast when the 
idea occurs to him of marrying the governess, about 
knowing that his *' Maker sanctions " what he does, 
and so forth, is cant. A ruggedly honest man, a 
healthily strong man, though he might be passion- 
driven into crime, would not fall into sickly self- 

282 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

deception like this. The personage who, with a wife 
in the garret, snivels about little Jane being the instru- 
ment ordained by Providence to work out his reforma- 
tion, must have a vein of rather malignant humbug in 
him. Heep's parade of his 'umbleness, Pecksniffs 
advertisement of his generosity, are superficial weak- 
nesses compared with the rooted falseness of cant like 
this. I should not call Kochester a scoundrel or a 
worthless fellow, but he falls below the lowest 
standard of a heroic character. Yet he is the hero 
of this book; and so attractive is he made so 
effectually are his bad elements masked in his 
fascinating qualities that, of the tens of thousands 
of girls who have hung enraptured over the pages of 
Jane Eyre, I should doubt whether one of a thousand 
has not fallen in love with Rochester. Thackeray 
took it for many years as his mission to castigate 
those writers of fiction who arrayed vice in the 
attractiveness pertaining legitimately to virtue. The 
representative of such writers he found in the author 
of Pelham and Ernest Maltravers, and no one, I think, 
has ventured to maintain that his censure was wholly 
unjust or uncalled for ; but the subtly seductive and 
cunningly masked badness of Rochester is fitted to 
exert a far deadlier influence than that of the gorgeous 
voluptuaries whom one smiles at in those romances 
that carried the name of Bulwer over the world. 

Let it not, however, be supposed that I charge 
Charlotte Bronte with what Scotch lawyers would 
call homologating Eochester. She does not take him 

The Charges against Jane Eyre Defined. 283 

over as all right, and cover him with the mantle of 
her approval. We cannot make her answerable for 
more than Jane's estimate of Rochester for the 
treatment which, first and last, he obtains at Jane's 
hands ; but she is assuredly answerable for this. 
Jane, it is true, does not take Rochester at his own 
valuation. She starts back so soon as she knows 
what he has prepared for her ; declines to exculpate 
him; promptly leaves his house. Her previous con- 
duct had not been faultless, but neither had it been 
gravely censurable. She had not been duly respect- 
ful to herself, duly sensible of her dignity as a 
teacher, of her rights as a woman and a lady ; but 
she was very young, and she came from Lowood 
school, where she had been accustomed to answer 
"Yes, sir," " No, sir," to the portentous Mr. Brockle- 
hurst. It was a more serious offence to the right 
instincts of a woman, that she should listen to 
Rochester's unedifying account of his Parisian ex- 
periences. No man perfectly entitled to the name 
of gentleman would have stained the imagination of 
a girl in that way ; no woman entitled to the name 
of lady would have permitted her imagination to be 
so stained. Charlotte Bronte had no such sense of 
delicacy, in man or woman, as was possessed by Miss 
Austen, greatly more original and potent as I hold 
her genius to have, on the whole, been than that of 
her matronly and sweet-minded predecessor. But 
Jane stops short of actual degradation. When the 
catastrophe comes, she is true to herself, and in her 

284 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

inflexible resistance to Bochester we see how, under 
like circumstances, Charlotte, the intrepid little York- 
shire-woman, would have acted. Jane had loved 
Bochester with all the energy of her keen brain and 
virgin heart. He had seemed to be lifting her into 
exquisite bliss. The extent of her distress when the 
shock arrived we are enabled to realise when we 
accompany her into her room after the clergyman 
and the lawyer have left Thornneld Hall. She bolts 
her door, takes off her marriage dress, and, in the 
consciousness that the place she had been about to 
occupy is already occupied by a hideous maniac, 
begins to think. The passage in which her reflec- 
tions and feelings are expressed is another of those 
that mark Charlotte Bronte as a poet and great 
literary artist. Its imagery in particular its brief, 
superb contrast of wintry grief with summer glad- 
ness is unsurpassable. 

Jane Eyre, who had been an ardent, expectant woman almost 
a bride was a cold, solitary girl again : her life was pale ; her 
prospects were desolate. A Christmas frost had come at Mid- 
summer ; a white December storm had whirled over June ; * ice 
glazed the ripe apples, drifts crushed the blowing roses ; on hay- 
field and cornfield lay a frozen shroud; lanes which last night 
blushed full of flowers, to-day were pathless with untrodden snow ; 
and the woods, which twelve hours since waved leafy and fragrant 
as groves between the tropics, now spread waste, wild, and white 
as pine-forests in wintry Norway. My hopes were all dead, 
struck with a subtle doom, such as, in one night, fell on all the 
first-born in the land of Egypt. I looked on my cherished wishes, 
yesterday so blooming and glowing; they lay stark, chill, livid 

* " Seek roses in December, ice in June." Byron. 

Jane's Disappointment. 285 

corpses that could never revive. I looked at my love ; that feeling 
which was my master's which he had created ; it shivered in my 
heart like a suffering child in a cold cradle ; sickness and anguish 
had seized it ; it could not seek Mr. Rochester's arms it could not 
derive warmth from his breast. Oh, never more could it turn to 
him, for faith was blighted confidence destroyed ! Mr. Rochester 
was not to me what he had been ; for he was not what I had 
thought him. I would not ascribe vice to him ; I would not say 
he had betrayed me ; but the attribute of stainless truth was gone 
from his idea ; and from his presence I must go ; that I perceived 
well. When ? how ? whither ? I could not yet discern ; but he 
himself, I doubted not, would hurry me from Thornfield. Real 
affection, it seemed, he could not have for me ; it had been only 
fitful passion : that was baulked ; he would want me no more. I 
should fear even to cross his path now : my view must be hateful 
to him. Oh, how blind had been my eyes ! How weak my 
conduct ! 

My eyes were covered and closed ; eddying darkness seemed to 
swim round me, and reflection came in as black and confused a 
flow. Self-abandoned, relaxed, and effortless, I seemed to have 
laid me down in the dried-up bed of a great river ; I heard a flood 
loosened in remote mountains, and felt the torrent come ; to rise I 
had no will, to flee I had no strength. I lay faint; longing to be 
dead. One idea only still throbbed life-like within me a remem- 
brance of God ; it begot an unuttered prayer. These words went 
wandering up and down in my rayless mind, as something that 
should be whispered ; but no energy was found to express them : 
" Be not far from me, for trouble is near ; there is none to help." 

It was near ; and as I had lifted no petition to heaven to avert it 
as I had neither joined my hands, nor bent my knees, nor 
moved my lips it came : in full, heavy swing the torrent poured 
over me. The whole consciousness of my life lorn, my love lost, 
my hope quenched, my faith death-struck, swayed full and mighty 
above me in one sullen mass. That bitter hour cannot be 
described; in truth, "the waters came into my soul, I sank in 
deep mire ; I felt no standing, I came into deep waters ; the floods 
overflowed me." 

It was now that the fiercest trial of her virtue 
began. While she shook like a reed under the stress 

286 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

of her anguish, she found herself again in the 
presence of Kochester. He was contrite ; he spoke 
in the tone of one who was broken-hearted. " Jane, 
I never meant to wound you thus. If the man who 
had but one little ewe lamb that was dear to him as a 
daughter, that ate of his bread and drank of his cup, 
and lay in his bosom, had by some mistake slaughtered 
it at the shambles, he would not have rued his bloody 
blunder more than I now rue mine. Will you ever 
forgive me?" She forgave him; but repelled him 
decisively when he attempted to caress her, remind- 
ing him that he had a wife, and stating her deter- 
mination to leave him. Thereupon he entered more 
explicitly than he had ever done before on an explana- 
tion of his circumstances, insisting that, whatever 
might be his position in the eye of human law, he 
was, in the sight of God, divorced from his wedded 
wife. It was not only that he had been grossly 
deceived before the marriage, or that she had been 
intolerable afterwards ; she had, he said, conducted 
herself so as to entitle him to a legal divorce ; but 
"the doctors now discovered that my wife was mad 
her excesses had prematurely developed the germs 
of insanity." Legal proceedings, therefore, could not 
be resorted to. 

Whether Rochester was right or wrong in thus 
defining his position before the law may be open to 
question. The prevailing impression, at the time when 
Jane Eyre was written, undoubtedly concurred with 
the view he takes of his case ; but, since then, events 

Rochester's Last Word. 287 

have taken place which suggest a doubt whether he 
might not have obtained legal relief. A poor man, it 
is too true, who was forced to maintain a lunatic wife 
in an asylum, and who applied for a divorce on account 
of her unfaithfulness before madness had ensued, was 
driven, almost with hootings, from the judgment-seat ; 
but when a rich man, a man of title, applied for a 
divorce on exactly the same grounds, he found English 
law not inexorable to a petition that aristocratic blood 
might be warded from taint. Eochester was a rich 
man and of an old family, and he might possibly have 
found the aristocratic luxury called justice not so 
unobtainable as he thought. All this, however, was 
unknown to Charlotte Bronte when she published 
Jane Eyre. She had a right to represent her hero as 
barred from proceedings against his wife. 

Eochester next describes to Jane how the misery of 
his indissoluble connection drove him almost to suicide. 
Then a new hope awoke within him. " That woman," 
whispered the new hope, "who has so abused your 
long-suffering, so sullied your name, so outraged your 
honour, so blighted your youth, is not your wife nor 
are you her husband. See that she is cared for as her 
condition demands, and you have done all that God and 
humanity require of you." He was then in the West 
Indies. Animated with his new purpose, he sailed for 
Europe, immured his wife in Thornfield Hall under 
the charge of Grace Poole, set out for the Continent, 
and " pursued wanderings as wild as those of the 
March-spirit." What he sought for was a woman to 

288 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

whom he could tell all, who might take his own view 
of his position, " understand " him and " accept " him. 
He found that his ideal woman could not be dis- 
covered. He had recourse to unideal women much 
the reverse of ideal. They did not answer. Return- 
ing to his native country " in a harsh, bitter frame of 
mind, the result of a useless, roving, lonely life," he 
met little Jane on the frost-bound highway. " When 
once I had pressed the frail shoulder, something new 
a Iresh sap and sense stole into my frame." He 
dwells with glowing tenderness upon the incidents of 
their life in Thornfield Hall, and brings his whole tale 
to a climax of entreaty. " Jane, you understand what 
I want of you? Just this promise ' I will be yours, 
Mr. Rochester.' " She had now heard not only his 
plea, but his proposed application of its ethical princi- 
ples to the circumstances of his position : her reply 
was brief, clear, and right. " Mr. Rochester, I will 
no t be yours." 

" Jane," recommenced he, with a gentleness that broke me 
down with grief, and turned me stone-cold with ominous terror 
for this still voice was the pant of a lion rising " Jane, do you 
mean to go one way in the world, and to let me go another ? " "I 
do." "And now?" softly kissing my forehead and cheek. "I 
(j o " extricating myself from restraint rapidly and completely. 
" Oh, Jane, this is bitter ! This this is wicked. It would not be 
wicked to love me." " It would to obey you." A wild look 
raised his brow crossed his features : he rose ; but he forebore yet. 
I laid my hand on the back of a chair for support: I shook, I 
feared but I resolved. " One instant, Jane. Give one glance to 
my horrible life. When you are gone ah 1 happiness will be torn 
away with you. Wha\i, then, is left ? For a wife I have but the 
maniac upstairs : as well might you refer me to some corpse in 

Jane in Extremis. 289 

yonder churchyard. What shall I do, Jane ? Where turn for a 
companion, and for some hope ? " " Do as I do : trust in God and 
yourself. Believe in heaven. Hope to meet again there." ." Then 
you will not yield?" "No." "Then you condemn me to live 
wretched, and to die accursed?" His voice rose. "I advise you 
to live sinless ; and I wish you to die tranquil." " Then you snatch 
love and innocence from me ? You fling me back on lust for a 
passion vice for an occupation?" "Mr. Eochester, I no more 
assign this fate to you than I grasp at it for myself. We were born 
to strive and endure you as well as I : do so. You will forget me 
before I forget you." "You make me a liar by such language: 
you sully my honour. I declared I could not change : you tell me 
to my face I shall change soon. And what a distortion in your 
judgment, what a perversity in your ideas, is proved by your 
conduct ! Is it better to drive a fellow-creature to despair than to 
transgress a mere human law no man being injured by the 
breach ? for you have neither relatives nor acquaintances whom 
you need fear to offend by living with me." This was true; and 
while he spoke my very conscience and reason turned traitors 
against me, and charged me with crime in resisting him. They 
spoke almost as loud as Feeling: and that clamoured wildly. "Oh, 
comply ! " it said. "Think of his misery; think of his danger- 
look at his state when left alone ; remember his headlong nature ; 
consider the recklessness following on despair soothe him ; save 
him ; love him ; tell him you love him and will be his. Who in 
the world cares for you ? or who will be injured by what you 

Still, indomitable was the reply " I care for myself. The more 
solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more 
I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God, sanctioned 
by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was 
sane and not mad as I am now. Laws and principles are not for 
the times when there is no temptation : they are for such moments 
as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour ; 
stringent are they ; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual 
convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? 
They have a worth so I have always believed ; and if I cannot 
believe it now, it is because I am insane quite insane : with my 
veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count 
its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all 
I have at this hour to stand by : there I plant my foot." 


290 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

So she conquered. Simple, sound the very founda- 
tions of human society the adamant on which the 
pillars of the household and of the State alike rest 
are these principles of morality : and they did not fail 
her. Rochester was an egoist, but one of a high 
order : we should utterly misconceive his character, as 
imagined by Charlotte Bronte, if we thought him 
capable, even though he might threaten it, of resort- 
ing to violence. He was vanquished, and sank into 
silence. Jane left Thornfield, and did not again look 
into the face of Eochester till she could respond 
honourably to his love. The worst charge, therefore, 
which we can bring against Charlotte Bronte in rela- 
tion to this novel is that she casts too great a charm 
over Rochester, not that she does not discern him to 
be blameworthy. The length to which he protracted 
his persecution of Jane was, next to his hypocrisy, 
the worst thing in his conduct. No man could have 
a right to bait and badger a woman like that ; and if 
Jane had been a little more strong and a little more 
proud, she would never have favoured him with 
another look of her face. Am I right here, ladies ? 



IT is worth while, in these days of vociferous debate 
concerning the place of women in the social 
system, when perfect equality between men and 
women is indignantly claimed as a right, or asserted 
as a fact, by a thousand voices, to take note of Jane 
Eyre's mode of allusion to Kochester's career of dis- 
sipation during his wife's lunacy. She does not quite 
approve of his successive liaisons, but her rebuke is 
the mildest of upbraiding glances. " Jane," he says, 
pausing in his narrative, " I see by your face you are 
not forming a very favourable opinion of me just now. 
You think me an unfeeling, loose-principled rake, 
don't you?" "I don't like you," she replies, " so 
well as I have done sometimes, indeed, sir. Did it 
not seem to you in the least wrong to live in that 
way? . . . You talk of it as a mere matter of 
course." " It was with me," he somewhat jauntily 


292 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

answers : " and I did not like it. It was a grovelling 
fashion of existence ; I should never like to return to 
it." Jane continues to look grave. She will not 
sanction his proceedings. But it seems never to have 
occurred to Charlotte Bronte, as a possible way of 
viewing the case, that Jane might have said to him, 
" Now suppose, Mr. Rochester, that I had conducted 
myself as you have done, and had then bestowed on 
you so frank a series of confidences as you have 
bestowed upon me, how would you have taken it? 
and, in particular, how would you have been affected 
by the concluding expression of superlative affection 
for yourself? Would you have accepted this last with 
gratitude and ecstasy, or repelled it with anger and 
contempt ? " This is what it must come to if women 
are to teach men to do justice to women not only by 
precept but by example. 

Morality is, after all, a commonplace affair, 
commonplace as the beaten road through the trea- 
cherous morass. Eight and wrong are seldom diffi- 
cult to discriminate, though it is not seldom difficult 
to do the one and refrain from doing the other. As 
Pope shrewdly suggests, the energy that might con- 
centrate itself on doing the right is apt to be at- 
tenuated into ingenuity to devise excuses for doing 
the wrong. Mr. Carlyle has been vehement beyond 
tolerance of ears polite in his contempt for the modern 
notion that duty can arrange a compromise with 
voluptuous ease. Not moral heroism only; but the 
honesty, the habit of painful persistent work, the 

Mr. Meredith on Egoism. 293 

manly acceptance of loss, of misfortune, of failure, of 
irremediable wrong, without mutinous infraction of 
the divine-human laws of society : all these, which 
are the very stuff of virtue and the soul of nations, 
would perish if Rochester's practical ethics found 
universal favour. Abnegation is not easy, but it 
cannot be dispensed with for all that. Call it, in the 
dialect of self-sufficient humanism, conscious submis- 
sion to necessity; call it, in the language of old-world 
reverence, bowing of the back to the burden provi- 
dentially laid upon it, the thing, once for all, 
cannot, unless man degrades into a beast, become 

The root of Rochester's moral malady is his egoism, 
and Charlotte Bronte fails chiefly, not in perceiving 
the fact of his wrongness, for she does that, but in 
analysing it. Mr. George Meredith, in his remarkable 
novel The Egoist, furnishes so masterly an example of 
the kind of analysis which ought to have been applied 
to Rochester, that I am glad to be able to refer to it. 
Sir Willoughby Patterne is a self- worshipper of the 
most elaborate get-up. He has an income of fifty 
thousand pounds drawn from land ; his family is old 
enough to give him a pretence for pride of birth ; he is 
naturally " anything but obtuse," and has had every 
advantage of education ; he is handsome in figure, 
good-looking in face, imposing in manner, and has 
been nurtured in the idolatry of his mother and aunts. 
Such a man is the most eligible match in his county. 
Clara Middleton, an exceedingly beautiful girl, attracts 

294 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

his attention, accepts his hand, and fancies herself as 
happy as all the world believes her to be enviable. He 
cants to her about ideals, and about ethereal separa- 
tion from the world. She is, however, affectionate and 
sincere, and while Sir Willoughby discourses of the 
felicities that await her and him, it gradually dawns 
upon her that there is a hollowness at the man's 
heart ; that he is like a cathedral whose painted 
windows are lit up, not with God's sunlight from 
without, but with a strange and sickly light derived 
from the lamp which perpetually burns in its centre at 
the shrine of self. In fact, he is an egoist ; and when 
this word is accidentally uttered by some one in her 
hearing, she mentally fixes upon it as the title that 
befits and explains him. In place of the vague warmth 
of admiration with which she had previously regarded 
him, there steals over her an absolute horror at the 
idea of becoming his wife. 

Rochester's egoism is of a different kind from that of 
Sir Willoughby Patterne. It has less of the element 
of aristocratic pride, more of the element of passion. 
Mr. George Meredith's egoist is incapable of loving any 
one so ardently as Rochester loves Jane. But love that 
is altogether noble dwells first and supremely on the hap- 
piness of the loved one ; and it cannot be maintained 
for a moment that Rochester is primarily swayed by 
what is due to Jane. Of himself he always talks ; he 
does not implore permission to make her happy, but 
beseeches her to confer happiness on him. The test 
of noble and knightly passion is that it exults in 

Thackeray's Moral Analysis. 295 

conferring joy, and that the " chord of self," struck 
by it, passes in music " out of sight." The egoism 
of passion, however, is more human and morally 
hopeful than the egoism of vanity and of worldly 

The man to treat Kochester with unique felicity 
would have been Thackeray. The performance would 
have been a faultless masterpiece of moral vivisection. 
That combination of insight into human nature and 
experience of human life, with the finest irony, which 
distinguished the great censor and humorist, is exactly 
what was required for the problem. Thackeray's irony, 
never cruel, never Swiftian, yet irresistible in its sharp- 
ness and fineness, would have played like a tongue of 
lambent, finely-laughing fire upon Rochester's views of 
self-reformation, upon his edifying aspirations after 
goodness, his generous readiness to make Jane's fall 
the instrument of his spiritual elevation, his self-pity- 
ing sentimentalism. But while Thackeray would have 
left us under no mistake as to what he thought of 
Rochester's heroism, he would probably have repre- 
sented Jane as no less fascinated and subdued by him 
than Charlotte Bronte shows her to have been. It is 
a Chorus we want to the play, after the fashion of the 
Greek drama, and this part of Chorus might have been 
taken with unsurpassable effect by Thackeray. The 
brief snatches of comment that he could have thrown 
in while he made Rochester tell his own story, would 
have had a still more delicate aroma of humour than 
those 'with which he satirises the pretensions of Barry 

296 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

Lyndon. He would not have made Rochester either 
quite a coxcomb or quite a histrio, but he would have 
brought out in vivid and piquant relief the lurking 
ingredients of coxcomb and histrio which Charlotte 
Bronte's hand perhaps because it was a woman's 
hand does not disclose to us. 

Miss Martineau, who doubtless had the information 
from head-quarters, tells us that Charlotte Bronte, as 
she proceeded with the novel, became intensely inter- 
ested in the fortunes of her heroine, whose smallness 
and plainness corresponded with her own. When she 
brought little Jane to Thornfield her enthusiasm had 
grown so great that she could not stop. She went on 
" writing incessantly for three weeks." At the end of 
this time she had made the minute woman conquer 
temptation, and, in the dawn of the summer morning, 
leave Thornfield. It was in the dead of winter that 
the great agitation of Jane's life had begun with the 
arrival of Rochester. The morning was now lovely 
with the streaks of sunrise, and the grass was bright 
with dew ; but the icy sharpness of that winter even- 
ing had been sweeter to Jane than this balmy summer 
morn. " I looked neither to rising sun, nor smiling 
sky, nor wakening nature. He who is taken out to 
pass through a fair scene to the scaffold, thinks not of 
the flowers that smile on his road, but of the block 
and axe-edge ; of the disseverment of bone and vein ; 
of the grave gaping at the end : and I thought of drear 
flight and homeless wandering and, oh ! with agony 
I thought of what I left. I could not help it." She pic- 

Jane Leaves Thornfield. 297 

tured to herself Eochester, sleepless, watching the dawn. 
She trembled lest, on discovering her flight, he might 
sink into self-abandonment and ruin. Under the in- 
exorable rule of duty, her emotions chafed and fretted 
like fiery horses against the curb, lashing out in their 
rebellious desire for freedom. "Birds began singing 
in brake and copse ; birds were faithful to their 
mates; birds were emblems of love. What was 
I? In the midst of my pain of heart and frantic 
effort of principle, I abhorred myself. I had no 
solace from self-approbation ; none even from self- 
respect. I had injured wounded left my master. 
I was hateful in my own eyes. Still I could not turn 
nor retrace one step. God must have led me on. As 
to my own will or conscience, impassioned grief had 
trampled one and stifled the other. I was weeping 
wildly as I walked along my solitary way ; fast, fast I 
went like one delirious." This is imagined with 
superb power and, I have no doubt, with substantial 
fidelity to truth ; but the phenomena chronicled are 
those of the surface those which a spectator would 
have seen those of which Jane herself was distinctly 
conscious ; and beneath all these was the great deep 
of Jane's spiritual nature, unagitated by the surface 
waves, resting on the immovable foundations of the 
world, the changeless laws of rectitude, morality, 

After Jane left Thornfield " the rest of the book," 
says Miss Martineau, " was written with less vehe- 
mence, and with more anxious care ; the world adds, 

298 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

with less vigour and interest." Miss Martineau seems, 
though she does not actually say so, to agree with the 
world; and I certainly do. Jane's experiences be- 
tween the time of her departure from Thornfield and 
her return to Eochester at Ferndean Manor would 
form an excellent one-volume tale ; but, in relation to 
the main interest and plan of this book, they are what 
magazine editors call padding. And their style has 
that elaborate perfection that " anxious care," as 
Miss Martineau well words it which shows that the 
fires of imagination had subsided. I should say that, 
on the whole, the part of Jane Eyre which comes 
between the heroine's meeting with Kochester and her 
departure from Thornfield is more deeply imbued 
with the genius and imagination of Charlotte Bronte 
than anything else she has written. In fidelity of 
characterisation, in consistency of thought, feeling, 
speech, conduct, mood, even caprice, Eochester is as 
fine a piece of artistic portraiture as we have from 
Miss Austen, Thackeray, or Scott. But on that 
matter Mr. Swinburne has sufficiently enlarged. 



THEEE is one of her characters which some might 
aver to be executed with more consummate skill 
than Rochester, and which, whether superior or in- 
ferior, is so differently handled that it may be profitable, 
as well as interesting, to compare the two. I allude to 
Paul Emanuel, professor in the Villette Seminary, and 
lover of Lucy Snowe. Rochester is the more ima- 
ginatively conceived portrait ; M. Paul has the closer 
resemblance to a living man. It might, indeed, be 
argued, though I should not care to maintain the 
position dogmatically, that Paul Emanuel is too much 
an individual to attain high perfection as a figure in a 
work of art. It is with the type, not the individual, or 
at least with the type in the individual, that art con- 
cerns itself. The particulars specified regarding him 
have the air, indefinable yet unmistakable, of literal 
facts. But it is a special note of Charlotte Bronte's 
work that both Rochester and Paul Emanuel have 
harsh and repulsive, as well as attractive, qualities. 
Charlotte Bronte never forgets to give " the bitter of 

300 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

the sweet " and the sweet of the bitter, in her charac- 
teristic heroes. Eochester is imperious, abrupt, almost 
rude, and it is plain that Jane likes the element of aus- 
terity in her "master." Emanuelis choleric, arbitrary, 
eccentric, even cruelly harsh. When his temper is 
ruffled, he makes all who come near him the victims 
of his petulant fury. An illustrative passage will 
enable my readers to know what I mean better than 
any words of mine. Emanuel had just delivered to 
Lucy Snowe a letter, which suggested to him that he 
had a rival in her affections, handing it to her with " a 
look of scowling distrust." She retired with the letter, 
and presently returned. 

When I re-entered the schoolroom, behold M. Paul raging like 
a pestilence ! Some pupil had not spoken audibly or distinctly 
enough to suit his ear and taste, and now she and others were 
weeping, and he was raving from his estrade almost livid. Curious 
to mention, as I appeared, he fell on me. " Was I the mistress of 
these girls? Did I profess to teach them the conduct befitting 
ladies ? and did I permit and, he doubted not, encourage them to 
strangle their mother-tongue in their throats, to mince and mash 
it between their teeth, as if they had some base cause to be 
ashamed of the words they uttered ? Was this modesty ? He 
knew better. It was a vile pseudo-sentiment the offspring or the 
forerunner of evil. Rather than submit to this mopping and 
mowing, this mincing and grimacing, this grinding of a noble 
tongue, this general affectation and sickening stubbornness of the 
pupils of the first class, he would throw them up for a set of 
insupportable petites mattresses, and confine himself to teaching 
the A B C to the babies of the third division." 

What could I say to all this ? Keally nothing ; and I hoped he 
would allow me to be silent. The storm recommenced. " Every 
answer to his queries was then refused? It seemed to be con- 
sidered in that place that conceited boudoir of a first class, 
with its pretentious bookcases, its green-baized desks, its rubbish 

M. P. Emanuel in Class. 301 

of flower-stands, its trash of framed pictures and maps, and its 
foreign surveillante, forsooth ! it seemed to be the fashion to 
think there that the Professor of Literature was not worthy of a 
reply ! These were new ideas ; imported, he did not doubt, 
straight from 'la Grande Bretaigne ' they savoured of island 
insolence and arrogance." Lull the second the girls, not one of 
whom was ever known to weep a tear for the rebukes of any other 
master, now ah 1 melting like snow- statues before the intemperate 
heat of M. Emanuel : I not yet much shaken, sitting down, and 
venturing to resume my work. Something either in my con- 
tinued silence or in the movement of my hand, stitching trans- 
ported M. Emanuel beyond the last boundary of patience. He 
actually sprang from his estrade. The stove stood near my desk ; 
he attacked it ; the little iron door was nearly dashed from its 
hinges, the fuel was made to fly. " Est-ce que vous avez ^intention 
de rriinsulter ? " said he to me, in a low, furious voice, as he thus 
outraged, under pretence of arranging, the fire. 

It was time to soothe him a little. " Mais, monsieur," said I, 
"I would not insult you for the world. I remember too well that 
you once said we should be friends." I did not intend my voice to 
falter, but it did : more, I think, through the agitation of late 
delight than in any spasm of present fear. Still there certainly 
was something in M. Paul's anger a kind of passion of emotion 
that specially tended to draw tears. I was not unhappy, nor much 
afraid, yet I wept. "Aliens, allons!" said he presently, looking 
round and seeing the deluge universal. " Decidedly I am a 
monster and a ruffian. I have only one pocket-handkerchief," he 
added, "but if I had twenty, I would offer you each one. Your 
teacher shall be your representative. Here, Miss Lucy." And he 
took forth and held out to me a clean silk handkerchief. Now, a 
person who did not know M. Paul, who was unused to him and 
his impulses, would naturally have bungled at this offer declined 
accepting the same et cetera. But I too plainly felt this would 
never do: the slightest hesitation would have been fatal to the 
incipient treaty of peace. I rose and met the handkerchief half- 
way, received it with decorum, wiped therewith my eyes, and, 
resuming my seat, and retaining the flag of truce in my hand and 
on my lap, took especial care during the remainder of the lesson 
to touch neither needle nor thimble, scissors nor muslin. Many a 
jealous glance did M. Paul cast at these implements; he hated 
them mortally, considering sewing a source of distraction from the 

302 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

attention due to himself. A very eloquent lesson he gave, and 
very kind and friendly was he to the close. Ere he had done, the 
clouds were dispersed and the sun shining out tears were ex- 
changed for smiles. 

Capricious, whimsical, subject to sudden gusts of 
irrational anger, Professor Emanuel had the faculty 
of diffusing an immense deal of discomfort among his 
fellow-creatures. They had the irritation the annoy- 
ance even to tears of the stormy gusts ; and he 
reaped the advantage of finding his sunshine, when 
he chose to smile, more highly prized, more sweetly 
felt, than if no bad weather had preceded it. He 
could be kind; his heart was not " ossified;" nay, 
" in its core was a place tender beyond man's tender- 
ness, a place that humbled him to little children, 
that bound him to girls and women." This made 
amends for " many a sharp snap and savage snarl." 
" Naturally a little man, of unreasonable moods," he 
resembled Napoleon in his " shameless disregard of 
magnanimity." He detested learned women. A 
" woman of intellect " was, he thought, " a luckless 
accident, a thing for which there was neither place 
nor use in creation, wanted neither as wife nor 
worker." He was, withal, forgiving to the van- 
quished, and though lacking magnanimity in trifles, 
was "great in great things." Sharing Dr. Johnson's 
capricious temper, he was, like Johnson, a succourer 
of poor and unpleasant creatures who had no other 
friend, and had on hand Mother Walravens, Father 
Silas, Mrs. Agnes, "and a whole troop of nameless 
paupers." He had been constant to a youthful love 

The Bronte Lovers. 303 

" one grand love, born so strong and perfect, that 
it had laughed at Death himself, despised his mean 
rape of matter, clung to immortal spirit, and, in 
victory and faith, had watched beside a tomb twenty 
years." Why is it that all the heroes all the admired 
men and accepted lovers of Charlotte Bronte are 
choleric, moody, masterful, and are obviously felt by 
her to be, for that reason, the more enchanting ? 

The tartness to use a somewhat indefinite term 
of Charlotte Bronte's lovers is, to the best of my know- 
ledge, a thing peculiar to the Bronte genius. Except 
Emily and Charlotte Bronte I do not know any writer 
who imputes asperity to love-making and captivating 
gentlemen. The author of the old ballad, Burd Helen, 
whose name is, I suppose, unknown, occurs to me as 
having approached the Bronte practice more clearly 
than most, and Chaucer, I have no doubt, could have 
accurately analysed the charm of Kochester's impe- 
riousness, and shown its root in the nature and social 
habits of women and of men. Helen in the ballad is 
atrociously ill-used by her lover, being forced by him 
to follow a-foot, clinging to his saddle-bow, as he rides 
on his journey by moorland waste and haggard stone ; 
he refuses to take her up, but lets her still drag on at 
his horse's side, even when they must ford " Clyde 
water," which rolls full in flood "from bank to brae." 
But we are relieved, or half relieved, at length, by 
finding that he has only been testing her affection, and 
that, when he proves it sufficiently, he accepts and 
returns it. Chaucer represents patient Grisildis as 

304 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

suffering exquisite mental torment from the man she 
loves, yet never faltering in her devotion. But Chaucer 
is careful to announce his own disapproval of Lord 
Walter's conduct, and to exhort wives not to be so 
meek as Grisildis, but always to give the husband 
back his own with usury. In the prenuptial period, 
Lord Walter had been gentleness itself. 

Probably enough, it is due to my lack of information, 
but I cannot, I repeat, recall any lover, outside the 
Bronte books, who, in the time of courtship, when 
desirous of presenting himself in the most attractive 
guise to the lady, is so blunt and peremptory as 
Kochester, or so snappish as Paul Emanuel. In Char- 
lotte's other great novel she adheres to her practice. 
Both Robert Moore and Louis Moore in Shirley are 
stern, commanding men, with something of the soldier, 
something even of the drill-sergeant, in them. And 
Shirley Keeldar herself has the Bronte contempt for 
soft lovers. " Pah ! " she says, " my husband is not to 
be my baby. I am not to set him his daily lesson and 
see that he learns it, and give him a sugar-plum if he 
is good, and a patient, pensive, pathetic lecture if he is 
bad." The love-lorn Louis understood the woman he 
had to deal with. "I scared her," he remarks, in 
describing what is generally held to be the delicate 
process of eliciting from a lady a confession of affection. 
" I scared her; that I could see; it was right ; she must 
be scared to be won." He scared her so effectually 
that she " trembled." The more she trembled the 
more commanding he became. " My pupil ! " he said. 

Amatory Fence. 305 

" My master !" she replied in accents fainter. After 
one or two other passes of amatory fence, " Am I to die 
without yon," he cries, " or am I to live for you?" 
" Do as you please," she answers ; "far be it from me 
to dictate your choice." " You shall tell me with your 
own lips, whether you doom me to exile, or call me to 
hope." " Go, I can bear to be left." " Perhaps, I too 
can bear to leave you ; but reply, Shirley, my pupil, my 
sovereign reply." This is peremptory enough, so she 
answers, "Die without me, if you will. Live for me, 
if you dare." Of course he tells her that he dares to 
be her accepted lover, addressing her by the endearing 
term of "leopardess." "You name me leopardess? 
remember the leopardess is tameless." " Tame or 
fierce," he answers, "wild or subdued, you are mine." 
" I am glad I know my keeper," she says, with the 
smile of acceptance on her lip, " and am used to him. 
Only his voice will I follow ; only his hand shall 
manage me ; only at his feet will I repose." 

Neither in Shakespeare nor in Goethe, neither in 
Schiller nor in Byron, neither in Fielding nor in 
Scott, neither in Thackeray nor in Dickens, neither 
in Mr. Trollope nor in George Eliot, do I find acid 
mixed with sweetness in love-making as it is mixed 
in the love-making of the Bronte novels. Heathcliff, 
in his boyish time, when the fine and manly in- 
gredients in his nature have not yet become malig- 
nant, is a rough and saucy lover ; nor would the wild, 
wayward, witching Cathy have endured him if he had 
been a soft and sighing swain. When Shakespeare 


306 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

introduces Richard the Third wooing Anne, an ex- 
press opportunity is afforded him for representing 
the lady as impressed by the hardness of Eichard's 
character, and as influenced by the force even 
though the harsh force of one born to be a king. 
Had Charlotte Bronte designed and executed the 
scene, she would certainly have made Bichard cast 
over Anne the glamour of his imperious strength, 
and shown her fluttering into his arms like a bird 
sinking fascinated into the jaws of a snake. Shake- 
speare's Bichard is subtle, insinuating, sophistical, 
wily, but he studiously disguises his harshness. 
King Henry, making love to the Princess of France, 
with the garlands of Agincourt on his brow, is a less 
masterful lover than Louis Moore extorting an avowal 
of regard from the splendid heiress whose tutor he has 
been. Egmont is all softness to Clarchen Faust 
to Margaret. And so on ad infinitum. 

If it were in a merely whimsical and fantastic spirit 
that Charlotte Bronte assigned to her lovers a gift of 
government and faculty of sarcasm distinguishing 
them from all other lovers, if they were extravagant 
or untrue to nature as well as unique, the originality 
with which she is to be credited on their account 
would be little worth. Stupidity, affectation, con- 
ceit, impudence, strong drink, opium, are all prolific 
sources of originality. But the distinctive charm of 
the acid in the Bronte love-making is connected with 
broad and well-established facts of human nature, and 
is neither fantastic nor far-fetched. Amiability is apt 

Insipid Amiability. 307 

to be insipid is always insipid when it is monotonous 
and constant. Flavour in fruit or wine is hopelessly 
destroyed by excess of sweetness. Smiling innocence 
is oftener complimented than liked, and Byron who, 
one would think, had never suffered much from 
amiability, whether as exhibited by himself or his 
friends or foes expresses sceptical wonder how the 
grand old gardener and his wife could have found it 
agreeable in Eden. The Bronte sisters had an excep- 
tionally keen and clear, but hardly exaggerated, per- 
ception of this general fact. Sugary people they re- 
garded with aversion the remark is illustrated by 
their delineation of pleasant women as well as of 
pleasant men ; and they instinctively shrank from 
sugary love-making. Little Jane, Shirley, and Lucy 
Snowe are women of great strength of character, and 
Caroline and Polly are not without decision. Mr. 
Lint on' s well-meaning friendliness does^ not save him 
from Emily Bronte's scorn, and the weak Mr. Symp- 
son in Shirley is the most despicable of all Charlotte's 
characters. Manliness, intellectual power, caustic 
piquancy of conversation, are qualities universally 
popular, and the Bronte sisters discerned that they 
are not suspended, and do not cease to be charming, 
though people are in love. 

But there is a still more specific element in the fasci- 
nation of Rochester and his peers than that dependent 
on the general interest of vigorous and pithy character. 
Charlotte Bronte unmistakably intends that a sense of 
the dominance and control exercised by her lovers shall 


308 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

be intensely delightful to the women who are loved. 
There is no term of endearment applied by Jane to 
Rochester which seems to have so exquisite a charm 
for her as " master." Shirley, the proud, rich, wild, 
brilliant Shirley, exults, as we saw, in the thought 
that she has found her "keeper," the man who can 
" manage " her. A deep swell of hero-worshipping 
enthusiasm an enraptured recognition that the man 
worthy to be a woman's lover is worthy also to be her 
lord passes through the whole of Charlotte Bronte's 
writings. Imbecility in the form of a man is indeed 
only the more contemptible for having degraded the 
temple it usurps ; but a man of true nobility, a man 
whose patent is stamped by Almighty God, is for her 
the king of the world. "I tell you," exclaims Shirley, 
"when they are good, they are the lords of the creation 
they are the sons of God. Moulded in their 
Maker's image, the minutest spark of His spirit lifts 
them almost above mortality. Indisputably a great, 
good, handsome man is the first of created things." 
Keen as is her assertion of every claim that she 
believes capable of being justly preferred on behalf 
of her sex, Charlotte Bronte has not a shred of 
sympathy with those who maintain the absolute 
equality of men and women. This cannot, I think, 
be reasonably disputed. Not only are we made to 
feel that Jane and Shirley and Lucy Snowe would 
be defrauded of their intensest joy in loving if they 
did not feel that their lovers were their masters, but 
we are expressly informed, through the lips of Shirley, 

Women's Eights. 309 

when Caroline asks her whether man must indeed be 
acknowledged woman's superior, that such is Charlotte 
Bronte's opinion. " I would scorn," Shirley answers, 
"to contend for empire with him. I would scorn it. 
Shall my left hand dispute for precedence with my 
right? shall my heart quarrel with my pulse? shall 
my veins be jealous of the blood which fills them? 
. . . . Nothing ever charms me more than when 
I meet my superior, one who makes me sincerely feel 
that he is my superior." "Did you ever meet him ? " 
asks Caroline. " I should be glad to see him any 
day," she replies; "the higher above me, so much 
the better ; it degrades to stoop, it is glorious to look 
up." When Shirley did see her lover, it was the very 
elixir of her joy that he could rule her. In her love, 
as in that of all Charlotte Bronte's heroines, there 
was a "delicious pride," but a "more delicious 
humility." * I presume that the ladies and gentle- 
men who are at present conspicuous by their advocacy 
of " women's rights " would hesitate to admit that 
their contention involves a denial of the superiority 
assigned to men by Shirley; but I believe that the 
main drift of their movement is practically its denial; 
and I hold further that, though all the enactments 
which give power to men as compared with women 
were swept from the Statute Book a consummation 
to which I should offer no resistance every woman 
supremely in love would, all the same, feel the crown 
of her joy to be in self-surrender. Mrs. Browning 
* This antithesis, however, is not quoted from Charlotte Bronte. 

310 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

attests this as well as Charlotte Bronte. It is woman 
who is addressed in the words, 

Thou shalt be served thyself by every sense 
Of service which thou renderest. 

I have no doubt, however, that there are women 
whom it would not be safe to woo in the fashion of 
the Bronte lovers some who would have resented 
Kochester's behaviour if he had ordered them about 
so bluntly as he ordered Jane Eyre, and who would 
have found nothing attractive in M. Emanuel's 
irascibility and caprice. 



TjINTEETAINING for great and good men an 
I J impassioned and frankly expressed admiration, 
Charlotte Bronte treats feeble and bad men with 
unrelenting scorn, and shows us, in an entirely 
characteristic passage, how, in her opinion, a spirited 
Yorkshire girl might put down a coarse and self- 
obtruding clergyman. The occurrence described took 
place in the grounds of Fieldhead, Miss Keeldar's 
residence. The Kev. Mr. Donne is the first speaker. 

" Ahem ! " he began, clearing his throat evidently for a speech 
of some importance. " Ahem ! Miss Keeldar, your attention an 
instant, if you please.' 3 "Well," said Shirley, nonchalantly, 
"what is it? I listen: all of me is ear that is not eye." "I 
hope part of you is hand also," returned Donne, in his vulgarly 
presumptuous and familiar style, "and part purse: it is to the 
hand and purse I propose to appeal. I came here this morning 

with a view to beg of you " "You should have gone to Mrs. 

Gill ; she is my almoner." " To beg of you a subscription to a 

312 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

school. I and Dr. Boultby intend to erect one in the hamlet of 
Ecclefigg, which is under our vicarage of Whinbury. The Baptists 
have got possession of it ; they have a chapel there, and we want 
to dispute the ground." " But f have nothing to do with Eccle- 
figg : I possess no property there." "What does that signify? 
You're a Churchwoman, ain't you?" "Admirable creature!" 
muttered Shirley, under her breath; "exquisite address! fine 
style ! What raptures he excites in me ! " Then aloud, " I am 
a Churchwoman, certainly." "Then you can't refuse to contribute 
in this case. The population of Ecclefigg are a parcel of brutes 
we want to civilize them." " Who is to be the missionary ? " 
" Myself, probably." " You won't fail through lack of sympathy 
with your flock." "I hope not I expect success; but we must 
have money. There is the paper pray give a handsome sum." 

When asked for money, Shirley rarely held back. She put 
down her name for 5. After the ,300 she had lately given, and 
the many smaller sums she was giving constantly, it was as much 
as she could at present afford. Donne looked at it, declared the 
subscription " shabby," and clamorously demanded more. Miss 
Keeldar flushed up with some indignation and more astonishment. 
" At present, I shall give no more," said she. " Not give more ? 
Why, I expected you to head the list with a cool hundred. With 
your property, you should never put down a signature for less." 
She was silent. " In the south," went on Donne, " a lady with a 
thousand a-year would be ashamed to give 5 for a public object." 
Shirley, so rarely haughty, looked so now. Her slight frame 
became nerved ; her distinguished face quickened with scorn. 
"Strange remarks!" said she; "most inconsiderate! Reproach 
in return for bounty is misplaced." "Bounty ! Do you call five 
pounds bounty ? " " I do ; and bounty which, had I not given it 
to Mr. Boultby's intended school, of the erection of which I 
approve, and in no sort to his curate, who seems ill-advised in 
his manner of applying for, or rather extorting, subscriptions 
bounty, I repeat, which, but for this consideration, I should 
instantly reclaim." 

Donne was thick-skinned ; he did not feel all or half that the 
tone, air, glance of the speaker expressed ; he knew not on what 
ground he stood. " Wretched place this Yorkshire," he went on. 
" I could never have formed an idear of the country had I not 
seen it ; and the people rich and poor what a set ! How corse 
and uncultivated ! They would be scouted in the south." Shirley 

Mr. Donne s Exodus. 313 

leaned forwards on the table, her nostrils dilating a little, her taper 
fingers interlaced and compressing each other hard. " The rich," 
pursued the infatuated and unconscious Donne, " are a parcel of 
misers never living as persons with their incomes ought to live : 
you scarsely (you must excuse Mr. Donne's pronunciation, reader ; 
it was very choice ; he considered it genteel, and prided himself on 
his southern accent ; -northern ears received with singular sensa- 
tions his utterance of certain words) you scarsely ever see a 
i'am'ly where a propa carriage or a regla butla is kep ; and as to 
the poor just look at them when they come crowding about the 
church-doors on the occasion of a marriage or a funeral, clattering 
in clogs ; the men in their shirt-sleeves and wool-combers' aprons, 
the women in mob-caps and bedgowns. They pos'tively deserve 
that one should turn a mad cow in amongst them to rout their 
rabble-rankshe ! he I What fun it would be ! " 

" There, you have reached the climax," said Shirley quietly. 
"You have reached the climax," she repeated, turning her glowing 
glance towards him. "You cannot go beyond it; and," she 
added with emphasis, " you shall not, in my house." Up she 
rose. Nobody could control her now, for she was exasperated. 
Straight she walked to her garden gates, wide she flung them 
open. " Walk through," she said, austerely, " and pretty quickly, 
and set foot on this pavement no more." Donne was astounded. 
He had thought all the time he was showing himself off to high 
advantage, as a lofty-souled person of the first ton; he imagined 
he was producing a crushing impression. Had he not expressed 
disdain of everything in Yorkshire ? What more conclusive proof 
could be given that he was better than anything there ? And yet 
here he was about to be turned like a dog out of a Yorkshire 
garden! Where, under such circumstances, was the "concaten- 
ation accordingly"? "Bid me of you instantly instantly!" 
reiterated Shirley, as he lingered. " Madam a clergyman ! 
Turn out a clergyman?" "Off! Were you an archbishop, 
you have proved yourself no gentleman, and must go. Quick ! " 
She was quite resolved ; there was no trifling with her. Besides, 
Tartar was again rising ; he perceived symptoms of a commotion ; 
he manifested a disposition to join in. There was evidently 
nothing for it but to go, and Donne made his exodus, the heiress 
sweeping him a deep curtsey as she closed the gates on him. 

The book, Shirley, from which this admirable piece 

314 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

of life-comedy is taken, though not marked by the 
sustained intensity of imaginative power which cha- 
racterises the central portion of Jane Eyre, is in some 
respects the finest of all Charlotte Bronte's novels. 
There is more ease in it more freedom and variety 
than in Jane Eyre, and it is less laborious and didactic 
than Villette. In none of Charlotte Bronte's books 
are there more fresh and lovely glimpses of landscape ; 
and the heroines, Shirley and Caroline, so felicitously 
contrasted, so finely harmonised, so perfectly life-like, 
are embodiments of the pride and love with which she 
regarded the girls of England and, above all, the girls 
of Yorkshire. 

In Shirley we see Charlotte Bronte in her ordinary 
mood, the mood in which she most broadly, simply, 
unconstrainedly reveals herself. Her genius shows its 
strength most decisively in Jane Eyre. Her most 
mature philosophy and her most carefully elaborated 
style are to be found in Villette. The former was 
written under high pressure, her feelings greatly 
excited, her genius making its critical, dead-lift 
attempt to establish a reputation ; the latter was 
also composed with conscious, painful effort, under 
a sense of duty. Shirley was written under more 
ordinary circumstances, in the natural outflow of 
sympathy and imagination. The shadow of death 
falls upon the page at the beginning of the third 
volume, written when the grave had just closed 
upon Emily and Anne ; but the spirit of the book 
is cheerful. Upon none of her characters does 

Shirley. 315 

Charlotte Bronte lavish, such glad enthusiasm as 
upon Shirley Keeldar and Caroline Helstone. They 
are English girls, and Charlotte Bronte, having lived 
in a Continental school, cherished a firm persuasion 
of the superior worth and attractiveness of the girls 
of England. They are Yorkshire girls, and Charlotte 
Bronte, though she loved England well, loved York- 
shire better, and was almost fiercely proud of the 
stalwart lads and brave and bonny lasses of the dales 
and moors. There is also, to my thinking, a natural 
fitness in the circumstance that, in a woman's novel, 
the chief part among the characters is played by 
women. Rochester might have given his name to 
the book in which he figures almost as well as the 
little governess ; but neither of the Moores is half so 
prominent in the Shirley group of personages as 
Shirley herself. Louis Moore, who holds technically 
the place of hero as the accepted lover of the heroine, 
is hardly heard of until the third volume ; and his 
brother Kobert, though we see him sooner, stands 
third in the order of interest, Shirley and Caroline 
being first and second. Women, though they may 
write passionately and splendidly about men, write, 
nevertheless, most congenially, and with greatest 
reality and accuracy of knowledge, about women. 
There is, accordingly, I repeat, more ease in Shirley, 
more free and natural and brilliant play of the 
author's faculties, than in her other books. In it, also, 
more than elsewhere, have we her idea of women's 
rights and wrongs. It was published about eighteen 
months after Jane Eyre. 

316 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

There is almost no plot, but the story is sufficiently 
well planned to secure for the reader the interest of 
mild surprise. The question all-important from the 
novelist's specific point of view who is to marry the 
heroine, is made adequately perplexing throughout the 
first and second volumes. Every one supposes that 
Kobert also called Gerard Moore will marry Shir- 
ley, and yet no unfair means are made use of to 
convey that impression to the reader. Nothing could 
be more natural, yet nothing more dramatic, than the 
interview between Kobert and Shirley, witnessed by 
Caroline ; and Robert's account to his friend Yorke of 
his proposal to Shirley is quite masterly, alike in in- 
vention, in humour, in truth to human nature in 
general, and in exactitude of correspondence with 
the characters of Moore and of Shirley in particular. 
The passage, however, must be read to be appreciated. 
I abridge some of the sentences, yet it is so long that 
I can quote but part. 

"Yorke, if I got off horseback, and laid myself down across the 
road, would you have the goodness to gallop over me backwards 
and forwards about twenty times ? " " Wi' all the pleasure in life, 
if there were no such thing as a coroner's inquest." " Hiram 
Yorke, I certainly believed she loved me. I have seen her eyes 
sparkle radiantly when she has found me out in a crowd ; she has 
flushed up crimson when she has offered me her hand, and said, 
' How do you do, Mr. Moore ? ' My name had a magical influence 
over her ; when others uttered it she changed countenance I 
know she did. She pronounced it herself in the most musical of 
her many musical tones. She was cordial to me; she took an 
interest in me ; she was anxious about me ; she wished me well j 
she sought, she seized every opportunity to benefit me. I con- 
sidered, paused, watched, weighed, wondered ; I could come to but 
one conclusion this is love. I looked at her, Yorke ; I saw in her 

Bobert's Proposal. 317 

youth and a species of beauty. I saw power in her. Her wealth 
offered me the redemption of my honour and my standing. I owed 
her gratitude. Young, graceful, gracious my benefactress, at- 
tached to me, enamoured of me I used to say so to myself; dwell 
on the word ; mouth it over and over again ; swell over it with a 
pleasant, pompous complacency with an admiration dedicated 
entirely to myself, and unimpaired even by esteem for her ; indeed, 
I smiled in deep secrecy at her na'ivete and simplicity, in being the 
first to love, and to show it. That whip of yours seems to have a 
good heavy handle, Yorke ; you can swing it about your head, and 
knock me out of the saddle, if you choose. I should rather relish 
a loundering whack." 

" Tak' patience, Robert, till the moon rises, and I can see you. 
Speak plain out ; did you love her or not ? I should like to 
know; I feel curious." "Sir sir I say she is very pretty, in 
her own style, and very attractive. She has a look, at times, of a 
thing made out of fire and air, at which I stand and marvel, with- 
out a thought of clasping and kissing it. I felt in her a powerful 
magnet to my interest and vanity : I never felt as if nature meant 
her to be my other and better self. When a question on that head 
rushed upon me I flung it off, saying brutally, I should be rich 
with her, and ruined without her ; vowing I would be practical, 
and not romantic." " A very sensible resolve ! What mischief 
came of it, Bob ? " 

"With this sensible resolve, I walked up to Fieldhead one 
night last August : it was the very eve of my departure 
for Birmingham, for you see I wanted to secure fortune's 
splendid prize : I had previously dispatched a note, request- 
ing a private interview. I found her at home, and alone. 
She received me without embarrassment, for she thought I came 
on business ; I was embarrassed enough, but determined. I hardly 
know how I got the operation over ; but I went to work in a hard, 
firm fashion, frightful enough, I daresay. I sternly offered my- 
self my fine person with my debts, of course, as a settlement. 
It vexed me ; it kindled my ire, to find that she neither blushed, 
trembled, nor looked down. She responded : ' I doubt whether I 
have understood you, Mr. Moore.' And I had to go over the 
whole proposal twice, and word it as plainly as A B C, before she 
would fully take it in. And then, what did she do ? Instead of 
faltering a sweet Yes, or maintaining a soft, confused silence 

318 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

(which would have been as good), she started up, walked twice 
fast through the room, in the way that she only does, and no other 
woman, and ejaculated, ' God bless me ! ' Yorke, I stood on the 
hearth, backed by the mantelpiece ; against it I leaned, and pre- 
pared for anything everything. I knew my doom, and I knew 
myself. She stopped and looked at me. ' God bless me ! ' she 
pitilessly repeated, in that shocked, indignant, yet saddened 
accent. 'You have made a strange proposal strange from you; 
and if you knew how strangely you worded it, and looked it, you 
would be startled at yourself. You spoke like a brigand who 
demanded my purse, rather than like a lover who asked my heart.' 
I looked at her, dumb and wolfish: she at once enraged and 
shamed me. ' Gerard Moore, you know you don't love Shirley 
Keeldar.' I might have broken out into false - swearing ; vowed 
that I did love her ; but I could not lie in her pure face Besides, 
such hollow oaths would have been vain as void : her female heart 
had finer perceptions than to be cheated into mistaking my half- 
coarse, half-cold admiration, for true-throbbing, manly love. 
' What next happened ? ' you will say, Mr. Yorke. Why, she 
sat down in the window-seat, and cried. She cried passionately : 
her eyes not only rained, but lightened. They flashed, open, 
large, dark, haughty, upon me : they said ' You have pained me ; 

you have outraged me ; you have deceived me You 

once high in my esteem are hurled down ; you once intimate in 
my friendship are cast out. Go ! " 

Do we not fee], as we read, that this passage was 
written with all Charlotte Bronte's heart, and not only 
with all her heart, but with all her conscience ? She 
lived much in the sense of duty, and no part of her 
duty as a novelist did she more vividly conceive, or 
more fervently grasp, than that of guarding the sacred- 
ness of passion. True affection was in her view an 
indispensable element in the right formation of the 
marriage tie; and her frame quivered with indignation, 
her pen emitted lightnings, when selfishness and 
worldliness tried to pass off some desecrating sem- 

Mercenary Marriage. 319 

blance of true love for the genuine feeling. With, 
intense emphasis she would have echoed Tennyson's 
anathema on " the social lies that warp us from the 
living truth." And it was a great occasion for her 
when she could punish the hypocrisy that mimicked 
love, in the person of Robert Moore, an able, success- 
ful, upright man, quite as high-minded as the average 
of his sex, and hardly conscious that, with his trades- 
man's instinct, he was perverting and profaning, in his 
proposal to Shirley, the very idea of marriage. Char- 
lotte had inherited from her father a jealousy of the 
trading fraternity. She thought that, in the French 
war, if the landed gentry had allowed them, the 
merchants of England would have sold her honour for 
an extension of their markets. " During the late war " 
these are her words " the tradesmen of England 
would have endured buffets from the French on the 
right cheek and on the left ; their cloak they would 
have given to Napoleon, and then have politely offered 
him their coat also, nor would they have withheld 
their waistcoat if urged ; they would have prayed 
permission only to retain their one other garment, for 
the sake of the purse in its pocket." We need not in- 
quire whether this censure is altogether Justin an histo- 
rical point of view ; Charlotte Bronte was, at all events, 
right in sharply resenting the intrusion of mercantile 
calculation into the sphere and function of the affections. 
It is, perhaps, worthy of remark though the matter 
is not of much moment that, at the time when she 
wrote Shirley, Charlotte Bronte was timorously 

320 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

anxious to disguise the fact that she was a woman. 
Some of the rugged strength, verging on coarseness, 
in the conversation between Moore and Yorke, may 
have heen intended to countenance the notion that 
Currer Bell was a man. But if this motive was 
present with her, it did not drive her to extravagance ; 
possibly it may have assisted her in sympathetically 
realising how a man would feel under the circum- 
stances described by Moore. In that invitation of 
Moore's to Yorke to give him a loundering whack with 
his whip, there is a subtly imaginative, a veritably 
Shakespearian, penetration into the feelings of a proud 
man who has made an immense fool of himself. The 
power displayed in the whole passage strikes me as 
amazing. I know no woman novelist, not even George 
Eliot, who has quite equalled it; and yet George Eliot, 
as she shows in such a passage as that describing the 
fight between the young squire and Adam Bede, can 
see very far into the heart of the male creature. 

But the view presented of Shirley Keeldar in this 
passage may convey to the reader a one-sided idea of 
her character. Capable she indeed was of scorn and 
severity, but she was not without more maidenly 
qualities. Let us look at her in a softer aspect. 

She takes her sewing occasionally ; but, by some fatality, she is 
doomed never to sit steadily at it for above five minutes at a 
time. Her thimble is scarcely fitted on, her needle scarce 
threaded, when a sudden thought calls her upstairs. Perhaps 
she goes to seek some just-then-remembered old ivory-backed 
needle-book, or older china-topped workbox, quite unneeded, but 
which seems at the moment indispensable ; perhaps to arrange her 

A Day with Shirley. 321 

hair, or a drawer which she recollects to have seen that morning 
in a state of curious confusion ; perhaps only to take a peep from a 
particular window at a particular view, whence Briarfield Church 
and Kectory are visible, pleasantly bowered in trees. She has 
scarcely returned, and again taken up the slip of cambric or 
square of half-wrought canvas, when Tartar's bold scrape and 
strangled whistle are heard at the porch door, and she must run to 
open it for him. It is a hot day ; he comes in panting. She must 
convey him to the kitchen, and see with her own eyes that his 
water-bowl is replenished. Through the open kitchen door the 
court is visible, all sunny and gay, and peopled with turkeys and 
their poults, peahens and their chicks, pearl-flecked guinea fowls, 
and a bright variety of pure-white, and purple-necked, and blue 
and cinnamon -plumed pigeons. Irresistible spectacle to Shirley ! 
She runs to the pantiy for a roll, and she stands on the door- step 
scattering crumbs. Around her throng her eager, plump, happy, 
feathered vassals. John is about the stables, and John must be 
talked to, and her mare looked at. She is still petting and patting 
it, when the cows comes in to be milked ; this is important ; 
Shirley must stay and take a review of them all. There are, 
perhaps, some little calves, some little new-yeaned lambs it may 
be twins, whose mothers have rejected them. Miss Keeldar must be 
introduced to them by John must permit herself the treat of feed- 
ing them with her own hand, under the direction of her careful foot- 
man. Meantime, John moots doubtful questions about the farming 
of certain " crofts," and " ings," and " holms," and his mistress is 
necessitated to fetch her garden-hat a gipsy-straw and accompany 
him, over stile and along hedge-row, to hear the conclusion of the 
whole agricultural matter on the spot, and with the said " crofts," 
" ings," and " holms " under her eye. Bright afternoon thus wears 
into soft evening, and she comes home to a late tea, and after tea 
she never sews. After tea Shirley reads, and she is just about as 
tenacious of her book as she is lax of her needle. Her study is the 
rug, her seat a footstool, or perhaps only the carpet at Mrs. 
Prior's feet ; there she always learned her lessons when a child, 
and old habits have a strong power over her. The tawny and lion- 
like bulk of Tartar is ever stretched beside her ; his negro muzzle 
laid on his fore paws, straight, strong, and shapely, as the limbs of 
an Alpine wolf. One hand of the mistress generally reposes on the 
loving serf's rude head, because if she takes it away he groans and 
is discontented. 


322 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

Caroline Helstone is more regularly beautiful and 
more nearly common-place than Shirley. Every curve 
in her girlish figure is graceful, her skin delicate and 
of lovely colour ; her brown hair falls about her neck in 
picturesque profusion, her fine eyes are " gifted at 
times with a winning beam that stole into the heart, 
with a language that spoke softly to the affections." 
Intelligent and gentle, she was no sooner known than 
liked by the more sprightly heiress, and an intimate 
friendship grew up between them. In their talks, they 
furnish Charlotte Bronte with an opportunity for airing 
her opinions upon various questions, chiefly that of 
the social position, duties, claims, and sufferings of 
women; in their walks, they lend her occasion for 
introducing those landscape glimpses which greatly 
enhance the charm of the novel. " Glimpses " they 
are rather than elaborate views hence perhaps some 
part of their fascination ; we catch sight of them as we 
pass, wishing always at the moment that we could see 
more of them, yet aware that the novelist does well 
to keep her word-pictures strictly subordinate to her 
story. The girls agree upon it that " England is a 
bonny island," and that "Yorkshire is one of her 
bonniest nooks." When they halt on the brow of the 
Common, we peep over their shoulders and look down 
" on the deep valley robed in May raiment ; on varied 
meads, some pearled with daisies, and some golden 
with king-cups." The spring verdure smiled in clear 
sunlight, emerald and amber gleams playing over it. 
" On Nunnwood the sole remnant of antique British 

Landscape Glimpses. 323 

forest in a region whose lowlands were once all sylvan 
chase, as its highlands were breast-deep heather 
slept the shadow of a cloud ; the distant hills were 
dappled, the horizon was shaded and tinted like 
mother-of-pearl ; silvery blues, soft purples, evanes- 
_cent greens and rose-shades, all melting into fleeces of 
white cloud, pure as azury snow, allured the eye as 
with a remote glimpse of heaven's foundations." 
Caroline promises to take Shirley into the pleasantest 
places in the old forest. " I know where wild straw- 
berries abound; I know certain lonely, quite untrodden 
glades, carpeted with strange mosses, some yellow as 
if gilded, some a sober gray, some gem-green. I know 
groups of trees that ravish the eye with their perfect, 
picture-like effects : rude oak, delicate birch, glossy 
beech, clustered in contrast ; and ash trees stately as 
Saul, standing isolated, and superannuated wood- 
giants clad in bright shrouds of ivy." Do not the 
words gleam like jewellery, set in silver and fine gold? 
Almost invariably these limnings from Nature are 
as remarkable for fidelity as for beauty. In fact, I can 
recall but one instance in which I doubt the correct- 
ness of the delineation. It occurs in the following 
sentence, descriptive of moonlight. " Tree and hall 
rose peaceful under the night sky and clear full orb ; 
pearly paleness gilded the building; mellow brown 
gloom bosomed it round ; shadows of deep green 
brooded above its oak- wreathed roof." So far as my 
own observation and it has been somewhat careful 
enables me to speak, moonlight shows no colour except 


324 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

in the sky. Wet roofs gleam brightly in strong moon- 
shine, but no shadow cast by the moon can be discri- 
minated as green. It is perhaps legitimate, how- 
ever, for the word-painter to derive more colour from 
association of ideas than the painter with pigments 
can dare to transfer from palette to canvas. Generally 
speaking, Charlotte Bronte's descriptions are photo- 
graphically and more than photographically, to wit 
sympathetically and lovingly, correct. " It was a 
peaceful autumn day. The gilding of the Indian 
summer mellowed the pastures far and wide. The 
russet woods stood ripe to be stripped, but were yet 
full of leaf. The purple of heath-bloom, faded but not 
withered, tinged the hills'. The beck wandered down 
to the hollow, through a silent district ; no wind 
followed its course, or haunted its woody borders. 
Fieldhead gardens bore the seal of gentle decay. On 
the walks, swept that morning, yellow leaves had 
fluttered down again. Its time of flowers, and even of 
fruits, was over; but a scantling of apples enriched the 
trees ; only a blossom here and there, expanded pale 
and delicate amidst a knot of faded leaves." Miss 
Martineau speaks of Wilson's descriptions as bringing 
the scents of the moorland into the sick-room ; I can 
aver that the preceding words, at that particular point 
where the scantling of apples and the blossoms linger- 
ing here and there among the leaves are mentioned, 
have produced in me what seemed the actual physical 
sensation of being in a country garden amid faint scents 
of apples. References abound in Shirley to the wind, 

The Duty of Endurance. 325 

whether the storm wailing and raging about the hall 
at midnight, or the gale filling the vault of the clear 
moonlit sky with silver-hued, swift-sailing clouds. 
11 No Endymion will watch for his goddess to-night : 
there are no flocks out on the mountains ; and it is 
well, for to-night she welcomes ^Eolus." 

There is a great deal of ethical teaching in this 
book; but it is thrown in so skilfully that, like the 
descriptions of scenery, it never suggests the idea of 
padding. The main precept which, here and else- 
where, Charlotte enforces, is that of entire, unques- 
tioning submission to the inevitable. The Arabian 
prophet was not more sternly resolute in enjoining 
submission to fate. " Take the matter as you find it. 
Ask no questions ; utter no remonstrances. It is your 
best wisdom. You expected bread, and you have got 
a stone ; break your teeth on it, and don't shriek 
because the nerves are martyrised. You held out 
your hand for an egg, and fate put into it a scorpion. 
Show no consternation : close your fingers firmly upon 
the gift ; let it sting through your palm. Never mind. 
In time, after your hand and arm have swelled and 
quivered long with torture, the squeezed scorpion will 
die, and you will have learned the great lesson how to 
endure without a sob." This is the ethical lesson 
which Charlotte Bronte never tires of enforcing, but 
necessity generally takes, for her, the form not of a 
dead, inexorable fate, but a Father-God. 



IT is seldom that the critic has so enticing a bit of 
work cut out for him as is afforded by the Bronte 
literature, and in particular by Charlotte Bronte. The 
mysterious thing called genius, of which critics ought 
to feel themselves the humble ministers and hiero- 
phants, has not often lent himself so kindly to scientific 
inquisition. The celestial spark, the immortal germ, 
can in this instance be traced in its origin, followed in 
its development, estimated in its fruits. 

An eccentric Irish lad, his brain full of Calvinistic 
theology, his heart of stiff old Tory pride and not 
ungenerous prejudice, with thin but genuine melodies, 
like tinklings of sheep bells, ringing in his head, conies 
to Yorkshire, divests himself of his Irish name, 
Prunty, apparently also of all Irish national feeling, 
marries a Cornish girl, frail but fine, and is found, 

The Bronte Genius. 327 

about the time of the passing of the Reform Bill, a 
widower, with one son and three daughters, clergyman 
of Haworth, a poor sequestered parish, high up among 
the clouds and moors of Yorkshire. From Patrick 
Prunty, self -named Bronti or Bronte, his daughter 
Charlotte and her sisters derived that " very fiery 
particle " of genius which all his children seem to 
have possessed. The one son led those who knew 
him in early boyhood to believe in his splendid 
abilities ; but he was so soon and so utterly wrecked, 
morally and mentally, that were it not for his relation- 
ship to his sisters, his name would not for an hour 
have escaped oblivion. The moral conditions with 
which girls are environed in England never vindicated 
themselves so impressively as in the contrast presented 
by the unredeemed and heart-rending failure of Bran- 
well Bronte and the noble success of his sisters. Those 
passions which, under due governance of moral law, 
might have been impelling forces to bear him to 
honour and fame, became fiends that tare him as he 
wallowed foaming. This is the grand lesson of his 
life ; and it is one worthy of being laid stress upon ; 
for there are some in these days who would sneer 
down, as Philistinism and bad form, that reverence 
for moral law which has characterised the sovereigns 
of literature generally, and most conspicuously of all, 
the sovereigns of that literature whose highest thrones 
are occupied by Milton and Shakespeare. 

As a Tory, old Bronte may be credited with a double 
measure of that enthusiasm for Scott which was at its 

328 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

height when his daughters were passing from child- 
hood into girlhood. The poems and novels of Scott 
and Blackwood's Magazine were the delight of the 
" family of poets " of Haworth Parsonage. Under the 
auspices of Scott and Wilson, Scotland became dear to 
Charlotte Bronte a circumstance otherwise natural, 
for Scotland and Yorkshire have varied and close 
affinities, and the vernacular of the latter is almost 
the same as the tongue of Burns. She preserved 
throughout life an affectionate feeling towards the 
northern part of the United Kingdom, in striking 
contrast with the bitter, cold, and grudging spirit 
with which the London schools, whether of poetry or 
of science, have always regarded Scotland. A visit 
to that country, after she had become famous, did not 
destroy her prepossession in its favour. The very 
names of Melrose and Abbotsford were to her " music 
and magic." " My dear sir," she wrote to a London 
friend, " do not think I blaspheme when I tell you 
that your great London, as compared to Dunedin, 
' mine own romantic town,' is as prose compared to 
poetry, or as a great rumbling, rambling, heavy epic, 
compared to a lyric, brief, bright, clear, and vital as a 

flash of lightning You have nothing like 

Arthur's Seat, and, above all, you have not the Scotch 
national character ; and it is that grand character, 
after all, which gives the land its true charm, its true 
greatness." Scott's delineations of the peasants and 
freebooters of Scotland may have encouraged Char- 
lotte Bronte to attempt a similar portraiture of the 

M. Heger. 329 

people of Yorkshire ; and from no author could she 
have caught the contagion of an impassioned joy in 
forest, moor, and stream, more genially than from 

But it was France that lighted the torch of her 
genius. After being partly educated in England, and 
serving some time, with indomitable energy, as a 
governess, she went to Brussels, and came under the 
influence of M. Heger. He saw the powers of her 
mind, encouraged her in composition, taught her to 
sharpen and burnish her French devoirs, and thus 
prepared her to make her debut as an English author 
in one of the most nervous, terse, and brilliant styles 
in the whole range of English prose a style with no 
fault except a certain uniformity, a too sustained 
alertness and trenchancy, a style quite perfect as 
a music of battle and of march, but far less adapted 
than some styles, notably than the style of Thackeray, 
to express the sauntering moods, to suit the 
meditative hours, that will not fail to occur in our 
earthly pilgrimage. One cannot think without a 
smile of the immense part played by M. Heger and 
her Brussels residence in the history of Charlotte 
Bronte. Choleric yet good-hearted, highly intelligent 
yet not without moodiness and whimsicality, M. 
Heger displayed that "force du caractere recouvrant une 
vibrante tendresse," that combination of masculine 
strength with feminine tenderness, which M. Eugene 
For9ade, in his admirable critique on Shirley, declares 
to be irresistibly attractive to women, and which is 

330 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

the keynote of all Charlotte Bronte's characteristic 
heroes. In her first and last books the Professor and 
Villette the scene is principally laid in a Brussels 
school ; and in Shirley she puts Flemish blood into 
the veins of the brothers Moore, and avails herself of 
the opportunity thus offered her of airing her French. 
In Villette there is more French than belongs legiti- 
mately to an English novel. 

It is beautiful, however, to see how the genial, 
brave, and healthy nature of our Yorkshire girl takes 
what is good, and rejects all that is evil, in the 
influence of the Continent and of France. Like a 
fair flower, she draws from the morass its richness, 
turns it into petals of loveliest form, lifts them to be 
bathed in the colours of heaven, and lets the poison 
alone. It is a marvellously stupid and superficial 
mistake to suppose that Charlotte Bronte assails 
English marriage, or any of the ideas characteristically 
attached to marriage in England. What she assails, 
both in Jane Eyre and in Shirley, is loveless marriage, 
lucre-made. What she denounces is the laying of 
young hearts on the altar of the god of this world. 
" See him," she makes Shirley say, describing to a 
wretched worldling the activity of his base divinity, 
" busied at the work he likes best making marriages. 
He binds the young to the old, the strong to the 
imbecile. He stretches out the arm of Mezentius, and 
fetters the dead to the living. In his realm there is 
hatred secret hatred ; there is disgust unspoken 
disgust ; there is treachery family treachery ; there is 

Charlotte's Idea of Love. 331 

vice deep, deadly, domestic vice. In his dominions, 
children grow unloving between parents who have 
never loved ; infants are nursed on deception from 
their birth : they are reared in an atmosphere corrupt 
with lies. Your god rules at the bridal of kings look 
at your royal dynasties ! Your deity is the deity of 
foreign aristocracies analyse the blue blood of Spain ! 
Your God is the Hymen of France what is French 
domestic life ? All that surrounds him hastens to 
decay ; all declines and degenerates under his sceptre. 
Your god is a masked death." Marriage without 
affection was in her eyes desecration ; but she shrank 
with equal aversion, and with still more vehement 
contempt, from the degraded feelings that are too 
often passed off for love in the literature and on the 
stage of France. " When I see or hear either man or 
woman," she writes, " couple shame with love, I know 
their minds are coarse, their associations debased. 
. . . In their dense ignorance they blaspheme 
living fire, seraph-brought from a Divine altar. They 
confound it with sparks mounting from Tophet." She 
refers with bitter scorn to those who mistook the 
sympathetic intensity of her descriptions of spiritual 
passion for sympathetic intensity of an ignobler sort. 
I have spoken of Emily Bronte as a woman of, in 
some sense, more wonderful and original genius than 
that of her sister. Charlotte has not left anything 
evincing such subtle, far-brought, and magical power 
as the group of Heathcliff and Cathy, nor had her in- 
tellectual glance, in the last resort, the same pene- 

332 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

trating finality as Emily's ; and she herself agreed 
with all the best judges in awarding the palm of 
poetic superiority to Ellis Bell. Nevertheless, it is 
Charlotte that must be pronounced, on the whole, the 
chief of the sisters, the head of this unique and most 
interesting Yorkshire school of literature, a school 
that may outlive English as a spoken language, and 
that was founded, established, and closed by three 
provincial governesses, the oldest of whom died before 
forty. Charlotte stands between Emily and Anne, 
the mean between two extremes. Emily was hard 
too hard. In her books and in her life she lacked 
expansion and geniality. She was unhealthy, with 
deficient stamina, a circumstance quite compatible 
with spasmodic and contracted strength. She has 
left little, and that little imperfect ; and yet it may 
be doubted whether, if she had lived, she would have 
done much more or much better ; for there is hardly 
a trace of youngness in her work. Anne, though also 
a woman of unquestionable genius, fell short in force- 
Her verses are, indeed, of great value ; they express, 
with faultless simplicity, clearness, tenderness, feel- 
ings absolutely sincere, and as pure as the waters of a 
mountain spring ; but both her thoughts and her feel- 
ings were limited in range. Charlotte had ten times 
the power of Anne, and her nature was more healthy 
and genial, her culture more comprehensive, than 
Emily's. On the whole, therefore, we must, I repeat, 
assign her the first place among the sisters. 

As the Norwich school of painters, old Crome, 

The Yorkshire School of Literature. 333 

Cotman, and their few brothers of genius, made the 
low, dune-bordered shores, and windy downs, and 
lingering rivers, and bits of tufted woodland, that 
form the scenery of Norfolk, memorable in art, so the 
Bronte sisters drew the eyes of all the world towards 
their native Yorkshire. It is a rugged land, inhabited 
by a proud, independent, sturdy, and strong-brained 
race, with rather a grating edge towards strangers, 
and marked individuality of character. Emily Bronte's 
old Joseph will vie with the peasants of Scott ; and a 
French critic remarked that, after reading Shirley, 
one could swear that he had lived in the world of 
Yorkshire. Keen-witted, observant, sarcastically con- 
temptuous of sentiment, but at heart true and kind, 
the Yorkes and Helstones of Shirley, as well as a 
number of peasants and mechanics, are speaking por- 
traits from the West Riding. Eugene Fo^ade 
amusingly describes the Yorke children as a half- 
dozen " d'enfans terribles qui sont le plus bizarre 
echantillon d' education presbyterienne, solitaire, ego'iste, 
spontanee, qu'eut pu rever Jean-Jaques." 

Were it but for this realisation of a type of cha- 
racter belonging to a territory as large as that of 
ancient Attica, Charlotte Bronte would take prece- 
dence of Miss Austen. Mr. G. H. Lewes who, like 
Macaulay, overrated that celebrated novelist, wrote 
advising Charlotte to follow the counsel shining out 
of his idol's " mild eyes," which counsel he summed 
up in the formula, " to finish more and be more 
subdued." In reply she commented politely, but with 

334 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

pungent effect, both upon the precept given and the 
example suggested. " When authors write best," she 
says, "or at least when they write most fluently, an 
influence seems to awaken in them, which becomes 
their master which will have its own way putting 
out of view all behests but its own, dictating certain 
words, and insisting on their being used, whether 
vehement or measured in their nature ; new-moulding 
characters, giving unthought-of turns to incidents, re- 
jecting carefully-elaborated old ideas, and suddenly 
creating and adopting new ones. Is it not so ? And 
should we try to counteract this influence ? Can we, 
indeed, counteract it?" There is, of course, but one 
answer to these weighty and pertinent questions. 
Charlotte Bronte was not only right in maintaining 
against Mr. Lewes that authors ought to listen to the 
voice of their genius and obey it to nurse their fire 
instead of subduing it but expressed the prime canon 
of all criticism, when criticism attempts to direct the 
artist. To advise the writer to subdue his fire is to 
give him the counsel by which Meer Jafner ruined 
Surajah Dowlah at PI assy, namely, to call off his force 
in the crisis of the battle. 

Turning to the subject of Miss Austen, Charlotte 
professes herself " puzzled" by her critic's enthusiasm. 
She had sent for Pride and Prejudice, which Mr. 
Lewes extolled above any of the Waverley novels. 
"And what," she proceeds, "did I find? An accu- 
rate daguerreotyped portrait of a common-place face ; 
a carefully-fenced, highly-cultivated garden, with neat 

Miss Austen and Charlotte Bronte. 335 

borders and delicate flowers ; but no glance of a bright, 
vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no 
blue hill, no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live 
with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but 
confined houses." Admiration for George Sand she 
can (she says) understand, for whatever Sand's defects, 
she has grasp of mind, sagacity, profundity. But 
" Miss Austen is only shrewd and observant." This is 
true, and nearly the whole truth. Miss Austen has 
inexpressible and inestimable delicacy of sentiment. 
Her heroines possess a sweetness all their own, a 
melodious tenderness and sense and goodness which 
make their way into our heart of hearts, and remain 
there for ever. Her old admirals, too, and her clergy- 
men and young naval officers are singularly true to 
life. But she has no invention, no incident. Her 
characters walk out in pairs, like boarding-school girls 
(only that one in each pair is a gentleman and a 
lover), drive in phaetons, " taake their regular meals," 
consult for weeks about private theatricals, and live, 
on the whole, about as quietly as tulips in a Dutch 
garden. Now, it is a universal truth in criticism 
that great passion and great thought require a frame- 
work of great incident for their display. The works 
of Homer and of Shakespeare the two greatest 
delineators of passion and character are as great in 
incident as in knowledge of human* nature. Void 
of invention, void of imagination, depending solely 
on her observation and her sentiment, Miss Austen 
belongs distinctively to the minor schools of lit- 

336 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

erary art; Charlotte Bronte, gifted, as Jane Eyre 
and Shirley conclusively prove, with both, is a 
sister, though perhaps a little sister, of the great 
imaginative story-tellers of the world : Homer and 
Scott, Sophocles and Shakespeare. The same honour 
belongs, I think, to George Eliot, who knows the 
worth of incident, and certainly stands higher than 
Charlotte Bronte in reach of thought and variety of 
power, but has never equalled her in the dewy bril- 
liance, the felicitous splendour, >f a few passages, and 
cannot, at her best, describe scenery with the witching 
charm and freshness of the Yorkshire girls. George 
Eliot has suffered from science, that cold Siren on 
whose breast Goethe laid his head, until he was 
gradually transformed from the inspired poet of Faust, 
part first, into the droning professor of Faust, part 

There is a tragedy, it has been said, in every death- 
bed, and -^Cschylus might be searched for more moving 
sadness than that of the deaths of the poetic women 
of Haworth Parsonage. Almost immediately after 
BranweH's death Emily became ill, and though the 
mind remained clear and the will adamantine, the 
body yielded fast to consumption. Towards the end of 
November, 1848, the deep, tight cough, the panting 
breath, " the hollow, wasted, pallid aspect," told her 
sisters that she was dying. But she would see no 
" poisoning doctor ; " when one came, she refused to 
let him enter her presence ; and when Charlotte wrote 
down her symptoms and, without telling her, sent 

The Death of Emily. 337 

them to a London physician, she would not take his 
medicine. She seemed to defy death. "From the 
trembling hand, the unnerved limbs, the fading eyes, 
the same service was exacted as they had rendered irj. 
health." She was, however, dying rapidly, and 
though she forced herself to her tasks, her interest in 
everything around her was vanishing with her hold 
upon life. Charlotte went out and searched the cold 
December moors for a lingering spray of heather, and 
took it in to Emily. But it was too late. "The 
flower was not recognised by the dim and indifferent 
eyes." So died, at twenty-seven, without a glimpse of 
the fame that awaited her, the authoress of Wuthering 
Heights and of that poem of which the main burden is 
the life-long hiding of God's face from one of His 
creatures, who had yearned vehemently to behold it. 
Of hope or of heaven there does not appear to 
have been one syllable uttered by Emily Bronte 
throughout her illness. They laid her under the 
pavement of Haworth Church. Her " fierce, faith- 
ful bull-dog," to which Emily had been very kind, 
howled pitifully at her chamber door for many 

Anne's death was very different. She had been 
taken to Scarborough, one of the brightest spots in 
England, and it was the month of May. On the last 
Sunday of her life, " the evening closed in with the 
most glorious sunset ever witnessed. The castle on 
the cliff stood in proud glory gilded by the rays of the 
declining sun. The distant ships glittered like bur- 


338 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

nished gold ; the little boats near the beach heaved on 
the ebbing tide, inviting occupants. Anne was drawn 
in her easy-chair to the window to enjoy the scene. 
Her face became illumined almost as much as the 
glorious scene she gazed upon. Little was said, for it 
was plain that her thoughts were driven by the 
imposing view before her to penetrate forwards to the 
regions of unfading glory." Next day she gently 
asked her physician how long she had to live, bidding 
him not fear to speak truly, for she did not fear to 
die. He told her that death was at the door. She 
looked serene and undistressed. Clasping her hands,, 
she invoked a blessing on Charlotte and on a friend 
who waited on her. " Be a sister in my stead. Give 
Charlotte as much of your company as you can.'" 
She thanked them both for their kindness to her.. 
The restlessness of death came upon her, and they 
carried her to the sofa. " Soon all will be well," she 
said, " through the merits of our Redeemer." Pass- 
ing through the gates of death, she still had comfort 
for her sister. " Take courage, Charlotte ; take 
courage." Then, " calmly and without a sigh," she 
fell asleep. God had not hidden His countenance 
from Anne Bronte. 

Charlotte returned to the lonely parsonage. She 
leant upon God, and He did not fail her; but the 
solitude was deep. " The great trial," she writes to a 
friend, "is when evening closes and night approaches. 
At that hour we used to assemble in the dining-room 
we used to talk. Now I sit by myself necessarily 

Charlotte's Marriage. 339 

I am silent." On windy nights, in the wailing of the 
gale in the churchyard and about the parsonage, she 
fancied she heard the spirits of her sisters trying to- 
reach her. Balmy days came, and the sun of May 
lighted the moors, making them " green with young 
fern and moss, in secret little hollows," but to her they 
were very desolate "a wilderness, featureless, solitary,, 
saddening. My sister Emily," she goes on, "had a 
particular love for them, and there is not a knoll of 
heather, not a branch of fern, not a young bilberry- 
leaf, not a fluttering lark or linnet, but reminds me 
of her. The distant prospects were Anne's delight, 
and when I look round, she is in the blue tints, the 
pale mists, the waves and shadows of the horizon.'" 
Is there any poetry lovelier or sadder than that ? 

Life, however, was not yet over for Charlotte. With 
heroic resolution she stood to her work, habitually 
dwelling upon the thought of Divine help. " The 
strength," she had formerly said, in the simple and 
intense faith of that Calvinism which she learned from 
her father, and which runs through her books and 
letters, " the strength, if strength we have, is certainly 
never in our own selves; it is given us." A change 
came over her life when, in 1854, she was married to 
a man she wholly loved. Her friends " thought of the 
slight astringencies of her Character, and how they 
would turn to full ripe sweetness in that calm sunshine 
of domestic peace." Her look brightened. She was 
sensible of a new warmth at her heart on hearing a 
villager describe her husband, Mr. Nicholls, as a 

340 Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters. 

* l consistent Christian and a kind gentleman," which 
41 high but simple eulogium" she could, she said, echo. 
She and her father and her husband, who was her 
father's curate, lived in the old parsonage on the high 
moor, the graves around it, the stars above. Her 
happiness endured but for a few months. With the 
prospect before her of becoming a mother, she found 
her health give way. True to her religious principles, 
she endured all with unflinching patience. At last, 
awaking from long stupor, she saw from the 
surrounding faces that she was dying. " Oh ! " she 
said, faintly, " I am not going to die, am I? He will 
not separate us ; we have been so happy." I pity 
those who trace in these words any spirit of irrever- 
ence. They seem to me as consistent with sincere 
and profound and affectionate regard for God, as the 
burst of tears of a glad child, when told by its parent 
to put down its playthings and go to bed, is consistent 
with filial love. But more touching words have seldom 
been uttered. Charlotte Bronte died as she had lived, 
a godly and honourable woman, one of whom England 
and the world may be proud. 



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